Mystery over Pak fighter deal
Officials deny news reports, admit JF-17 attractive:
Mystery shrouds the future replenishment of Sri Lanka’s air defence
as Air Force officials in Colombo strenuously denied persistent reports
that the country is poised to buy more strike aircraft from long-time
military supplier Pakistan.
SLAF commander Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala is due to pay an
official visit to Pakistan next week, but when asked, SLAF officials
refused to confirm that the SLAF chief would even consider the purchase
of the JF-17 ‘Thunder’ supersonic fighter jet during his visit. Air
Force officials, however, acknowledged that the JF-17 would be a good
‘value for money’ for Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the global military sales industry buzzed with the news of
an imminent Sri Lankan order for the Chinese-designed, Pakistani
manufactured high-tech jet fighter. News published in a prominent
Pakistan defence website, quoting diplomatic sources, reported that SLAF
Commander Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala is likely to ‘further push
the deal’ when he visits Pakistan shortly.
The news report also quoted an anonymous diplomatic source as saying
“negotiations on the number of planes Sri Lanka is interested to
purchase and their financial aspects are in the final stages.”
Air Force Spokesman Wing Commander Gihan Seneviratne told the Sunday
Observer that SLAF Commander Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala’s visit to
Pakistan was a ‘routine’ one made on an invitation from his counterpart
in Pakistan. “Sri Lanka Air Force has not entered into any purchasing
deal to buy JF-17 aircraft,” he said.
However, he said, the JF-17 was a strong option considering its
capabilities, the fact that its manufacturer was a friendly country as
well as its price. “When the existing aircraft need to get replaced, the
SLAF has to consider the best options and the best deals available
globally. It is not the only aircraft SLAF may consider when planning
future expansion of the SLAF. Currently, there is no purchasing
agreement with Pakistan,” he added.
The Mach 1.6 top speed ‘multi-role’ aircraft is of Chinese design and
is highly respected in the global defence industry being a derivative of
the legendary Soviet and Russian MiG range of military aircraft,
specifically the MiG-21 ‘Foxbat’. The Chinese defence industry has won
kudos for its ability to develop on original Russian designs. And
defence experts point out that the JF-17, developed in Pakistan as a
replacement for the powerful US-made F-16 fighter that was half the
price of the US fighter given the lower production costs.
The Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, however, did not respond to
queries regarding this purchase deal.