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.