SLAF To Purchase More Choppers
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is currently conducting a feasibility study to purchase Mi-17 helicopters as part of a US$ 300 million Russian credit line.
Cabinet Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said the SLAF following the feasibility study would decide on the number of helicopters to be initially procured. He explained that the country has provision to procure up to 14 helicopters under the Russian credit line that was initiated during the latter part of the war.
“Since the war was coming to an end, we decided there was no immediate requirement to purchase 14 helicopters,” he said.
However, following the end of the war, SLAF ventured into domestic passenger transport as a commercial venture through Helitours.
Rambukwella said the SLAF was looking at purchasing helicopters to be used to expand its existing commercial air transport work.
He added that the SLAF would pay back the loan through its profits from the commercial venture once the helicopters are purchased.
“I do not know when the study would be completed, but I don’t think the SLAF would utilize the entire facility and purchase 14 helicopters,” Rambukwella observed.
Meanwhile, SLAF Spokesperson Group Captain Andrew Wijesuriya neither denied nor confirmed the procurement of Mi-17 helicopters.
He said he was unable comment about purchases until it is in the Air Force inventory.
Speaking of Helitours, Wijesuriya said it is a commercial venture aimed at making profits and to improve domestic aviation until the private sector starts to invest in the field.
Reports of SLAF signing and agreement with a Russian company to purchase 14 Mi-171 helicopters first came out in August 2011.
Sri Lanka has reportedly signed a contract to purchase 14 Mi-171 helicopters from Rosoboronexport State Corporation, a state-owned arms enterprise under a Russian credit deal.
Russia’s ITAR-TASS had stated that Rosoboronexport will supply 14 Mi-171 helicopters of different modifications to Sri Lanka, two years after it ended a three-decades long terrorist war.
“A corresponding contract for supplying the helicopters will be carried out on account of the Russian state credit given to Sri Lanka by Russia in 2010 for purchasing Russian armaments,” the news agency has stated without giving any details on the deal.
Nevertheless, Rambukwella denied having signed any agreement yet saying a study was still being carried out into the matter.