The Sunday Leader

Fierce Dragon Wheeler-Dealers Pounding Sri Lanka Air Force

by Nirmala Kannangara

A former Air Force Chief and an infamous big business wheeler-dealer are attempting to influence the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) to acquire multi-role JF-17 ‘Fierce Dragon’ fighter aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan, at a higher rate, an Air Force inside source said.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said a JF-17 will cost the SLAF a staggering US $ 29 million while the same aircraft from a reputed manufacturer in Russia would cost between US $ 20-25 million.

“Despite knowing full well that the China-Pakistan jointly developed aircraft are not used by any other air force in the world, these middlemen want to promote this aircraft and get a commission of more than US $ 4 million per aircraft,” the source alleged.

According to the source, the JF-17 has so far not been a proven aircraft nor been used by any other air force in the world. Unless 300 to 400 aircraft are sold by the manufacturer, the source says, no one can guarantee as to how long they would function without giving troubles.

“This is an indigenous product and a country like ours cannot invest a huge amount of our foreign reserves to purchase ‘unknown’ jet fighters. When these middlemen were promoting the JF-17, the Indian government was concerned and offered an Indian manufactured aircraft which is still in experimental stages. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ is a multi-role light fighter and is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). If Sri Lanka goes on to purchase the Indian manufactured aircraft, we will never get proper fighter aircraft because India does not want us to have good jet fighters but only fighter aircraft that do not perform well,” the source added.

Both Pakistan and India are said to have been keen to show that Sri Lanka has agreed to be their export customers. The source further said that unless the SLAF purchases jet aircraft from a reputed manufacturer, when it comes to overhauling the aircraft, it will be a serious issue for the Air Force.

“However, there is a dire need to purchase jet aircraft for the Air Force, so that Air Force pilots to be occupied. After the war ended, many of the pilots and other staff have been confined to offices. The SLAF should purchase new aircraft and give the proper training to its officers without confining them to offices,” the sources added.

According to the SLAF sources, the Air Force has failed to get the jet fighters purchased during the Rajapaksa regime overhauled as the aircraft have been purchased through shady deals and from disreputable companies. As a result, most of the jet fighters are now grounded. This is the reason that the SLFA is now planning to purchase eight fighter aircraft.

“Had these jet fighters been purchased from reputable suppliers, we could have got all these aircraft which still have life-span, overhauled in a foreign country without any difficulty. To overhaul one jet aircraft, it costs about US$ 3 million and much less than the price of a new aircraft,” the sources added.

According to the sources, former Air Force Commander Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody had visited Pakistan many times to hold discussions with the Pakistani Air Force Chief for purchasing JF-17 aircraft; the present Commander Gagan Bulathsinhala too had made a few visits to Pakistan for the same reason.

It is also alleged that this Air Marshal who was later posted to Pakistan as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner had continued to discuss the JF-17 purchase with the Pakistani officials. Recalled to Sri Lanka after the fall of the previous regime, Weerakkody is still a frequent visitor to the SLAF Headquarters to get this deal through.

The sources further explained that the Sri Lankan Government has come under severe pressure over the proposed plan to purchase JF-17 from Pakistan, and they claimed that India is very much against the idea.

“The single engine multi-role JF-17 which was jointly manufactured by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aircraft Corporation of China is better than the light combat aircraft ‘Tejas’ that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is manufacturing now. In the event the government seals the deal with Pakistan to purchase eight fighter aircraft, there will be serious repercussions. But how can India lay terms and conditions to us? If we need to purchase aircraft, we should have the independence to buy from any country; neighbouring India cannot ask the SLAF not to buy from Pakistan but from India. Anyhow, if we go to any of these two countries to purchase the fighter aircraft, it is our country that will have to face the loss,” the sources added.

However, owing to the pressure mounted on Sri Lanka, it is now learnt that President Maithripala Sirisena has decided to put off the purchase of the JF-17 fighter aircraft from Pakistan and go for a viable deal with Russia instead.  According to media reports, the Cabinet last week took a decision to put off the purchase of the Sino-Pakistan JF-17 fighter jet aircraft indefinitely to prevent possible India’s ill-feelings towards Sri Lanka.

According to the sources, the present Air Force Commander, the Army Commander, the Sri Lanka Navy Chief of Staff, and a representative from Sri Lanka Logistics are currently in Russia to discuss whether Sri Lanka can purchase the necessary aircraft for the SLAF from them.

“If we can come to an agreement with Russia, neither India nor Pakistan will get angry with us. The Russian jet fighters are cheaper than the Pakistani aircraft and since they are reputable manufacturers, there is no need of looking for any other place for overhauling the aircraft,” the sources added.

Meanwhile, the Air Force sources said the government’s decision to consider Russia for jet fighters had upset the wheeler-dealers.

“Other than the former Air Force Chief, the other wheeler-dealer is a big businessman who was in the elite list of businessmen during the Rajapaksa regime. These middlemen have now panicked since they will be losing the commission,” the sources said.

Air Force Spokesman Group Captain Chandima Alwis, however, said the Air Force had never proposed to purchase aircraft but was carrying out a study of potential fighter aircraft suppliers in the event the SLAF needed to add to the existing fleet.

“The SLAF have Russian manufactured MiG 27 and Israel manufactured Kafir fighter aircraft. We never had any discussions either with India or Pakistan to buy their aircraft. Most of our fighter aircraft are over 30 years old but can be used for a longer period if they are overhauled. But we will have to pay a high price to overhaul these aircraft. It is better to purchase brand new fighter jet aircraft rather than overhauling the old aircraft which will have to be refurbished over and over again which is an extra cost to the SLAF,” Group Captain Chandima Alwis said.

When asked whether new fighter jet aircraft are to be purchased because the existing aircraft do not have modern technology, de Alwis said all SLAF aircraft have modern technology, and they needed to replace these aircraft simply because it would cost the SLAF more money to overhaul them.

All attempts to contact Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi failed because he was at meetings continuously. Several messages were left for the Defence Secretary for this newspaper to obtain his comment, but he did not respond to any of our messages.


5 Comments for “Fierce Dragon Wheeler-Dealers Pounding Sri Lanka Air Force”

  1. Patrick Rodrigo

    A country that’s almost bankrupt looking for more backhand deals, its time commission agents and politicos who worked hand in hand to defraud the nation were tried in court for treason and jailed for life.

  2. kudson

    looks like karunasena hettiarachi is not competent
    or somebody is blackmailing him

  3. david strange

    what is the big urgency to purchase “aircraft… not to protect ourselves against India?
    As for the officers sitting in their “offices.. I am sure with their expertise they can assist in other areas of management at least until sri lanka is back on its feet financially speaking in the future:

  4. gamarala

    Are we going to fight a war or defend our nation against invasion?
    While people are starving, do we need jet fighters?
    Do we need an air force like Lankan Airline ?

  5. sg

    It ,s seems that more worth to go for the Russian market as a best and rational choice.

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