India offers newest ‘Tejas’ jet
Competes with Pak ‘Thunder’ for SLAF orders:
India has offered her brand new, indigenous design, ‘Tejas’
supersonic jet fighter to the Sri Lanka Air Force even as SLAF commander
Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala prepares to visit Pakistan early next
month where he is likely to study Pakistan’s own supersonic jet offer to
replenish Sri Lanka’s air defence capability. Air Force officials,
however, insist that the SLAF commander’s trip to Pakistan is a routine
official visit and that Sri Lanka is not committed to buy the Pakistani
JF-17 ‘Thunder’ multi-role fighter.
Both the Pakistani JF-17 Thunder and India’s LCA Tejas are second
rung light fighter-bombers very similar in terms of flight performance
and weapons payload and, possessing very modern ‘smart’ technology but
are relatively cheaper when compared with the aircraft of similar
specifications manufactured by the big powers.
SLAF officials argue that, despite their high price tags, given the
emerging global geo-political scenario, Sri Lanka needs to replace its
currently ageing fleet of supersonic jet fighters with a new generation
of high technology aircraft.
Although there is some debate in the defence establishment here
whether or not the country needs such expensive, high-powered aircraft
for its limited aerial defence requirements, Air Force officials,
however, claim that given the currently emerging global geo-political
conditions, the country needs to be well equipped to deal with a variety
of possible threats, and thus requires high performance aircraft of the
Top SLAF sources disclosed that following the interest shown by the
Air Force in Pakistan’s economically priced new supersonic fighter
aircraft JF-17, India has now offered the matching, newly designed Light
Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ as an option for the SLAF. While the
Pakistani plane is already in service with PAF, the Tejas is yet
under-going trials and is yet to be inducted into IAF operational usage.
Defence industry assessments, however, indicate that the LCA Tejas will
ultimately rival the Thunder in combat capability.
A Sri Lankan defence analyst, meanwhile, has questioned the necessity
of such powerful aircraft for the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), even
though certain sections of its ageing fleet need immediate replacement.
The expert, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that Sri Lanka,
since located in a comparatively safer neighbourhood, should focus more
to improve the safety of Sri Lankan air space and disaster management
capacities, neither of which would require supersonic jet fighters.
When the Sunday Observer earlier reported exclusively that Sri Lanka
was considering a Pakistani offer, India promptly made a counter-offer
to Colombo. The Indian offer is its Hindustan Aeronautics Limited LCA
Tejas light fighter-bomber, that country’s first indigenously designed
combat plane, almost wholly locally produced except for the jet engine
which is a British-made import.