Pakistan Jets Still Being Considered
by Easwaran Rutnam
A much publicized matter when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was visiting Sri Lanka recently was that Sri Lanka was to sign a deal to purchase JF-17 Thunder Aircraft from Pakistan.
JF-17 Thunder is a third-generation fighter co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC).
However no such agreement was signed, and the Indian media later reported that the deal was suspended owing to pressure from India.
The Air Force says nothing has been ruled out and all options are still being looked into and JF-17 still remains an option.
Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Chandima Alwis told The Sunday Leader that Sri Lanka is in need of new jets for it to be on par with the changing world.
He said a final decision had never been taken on the JF-17 Thunder Aircraft even at the time Nawaz Sharif was in Sri Lanka.
“We have a requirement to improve our fleet and we are studying various options. The Air Force had never informed the Ministry of Defence that we would like to go for the JF-17, so there was never a final decision to purchase the jets when the Pakistan Prime Minister was in Sri Lanka,” he said.
However, the highly respected defence magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly had reported that following the first export deal for its JF-17 multirole fighter to Myanmar, Pakistan was expected to be pushing hard for a follow-up agreement with Sri Lanka that would mark an important step in further extending its defence co-operation footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
The report says that efforts to secure an agreement in principle for the sale of the JF-17 Thunder were expected to be high on the agenda during the visit of the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sri Lanka.
Sharif’s visit to Colombo followed a mid-November visit to Pakistan by Sri Lanka Air Force commander Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala during which the JF-17 was showcased by the Pakistanis. Immediately after the visit AM Bulathsinhala was invited to send an evaluation team of technicians and pilots to PAC’s Kamra facilities near Islamabad, where the JF-17 is produced.
At present the Air Force, according to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, rely on the Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir, which served as the workhorse of the Air Force ground attack operations during the war.
Currently the JF-17 is flown only by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), with the first squadron of Block 1 aircraft becoming operational in 2010. In late December 2015, PAC rolled out the 16th of a planned total of 50 Block 2 aircraft to complete the PAF’s fourth JF-17 squadron in service.
Phasing out its older Dassault Mirage III/5s and Chinese F-7Ps fighters, the PAF reportedly plans to induct at least 250 JF-17s. By contrast, China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) does not fly the JF-17.
Captain Chandima Alwis said Sri Lanka needs to secure its airspace, so SL needs to have jets with advanced technology even if there is no war.
He said the jets in the Air Force fleet are maintained and flown in order to ensure they are in good condition and ready to be thrown into operation if the need arises.
Among the countries the Sri Lanka Air Force is looking to acquire new jets is India, the Air Force spokesman added.
The Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that diplomatic and political pressure by India is believed to have stalled the Sri Lankan Air Force plans to procure the JF-17 Thunder fighters from Pakistan.
The magazine quoted official sources in New Delhi as saying this influence had prevented Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from closing a deal for 10-12 JF-17s for around USD400 million during his visit to Colombo.
During Shariff’s visit, Pakistan and Sri Lanka signed eight bilateral agreements in diverse fields including cooperation in trade, financial intelligence, science and technology, and healthcare.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Maithripala Srisena, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe witnessed the signing of documents at a ceremony held here at the President’s Secretariat.
An Agreement on cooperation in the field of health was signed between the Pakistan government and Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine.
The MoU on cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was signed between the Financial Intelligence Unit of Sri Lanka and Financial Monitoring Unit of Pakistan. The Ministry of Science and Technology, and Pakistan signed an MoU with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Research in the field of scientific innovation and cooperation.
The Pakistan Science Foundation, and National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka inked a MoU on scientific and technological cooperation. The MoU on sharing statistical and census data was signed between the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, and the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka.
The MoU between the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage and Sri Lanka’s Ministry of International Affairs, Wayamba Development and Cultural Affairs was signed on cooperation in the field of culture.
The Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) and the Export Development Board (EDB) of Sri Lanka signed an MoU on cooperation in trade.
The MoU for cooperation between the Pakistan Institute of Fashion, and Design and the Gem and Jewellery Research and Training Institute of Sri Lanka was also inked.
Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastagir Khan, Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi,and Secretary Commerce Muhammad Shehzad Arbab inked the relevant documents.