Colombo, August 10: Sri Lanka has decided to buy new fighter planes opening the door to potential sellers including India and Pakistan, which are eager to enter the international market with their own manufactures.
The Sri Lankan cabinet spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne announced here on Wednesday that the cabinet of ministers approved a proposal by President Maithripala Sirisena to purchase new multirole fighter aircraft and associated weapons for the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).
India and Pakistan are likely to bid for the supply with India offering its indigenously made Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, and Pakistan offering the JF-17 Thunder fighter which it is making in collaboration with China.
Senaratne said that the government will call for expressions of interest for the purchase of around 8-12 fighter jets. The fighter aircraft of the SLAF have been aging and it is important to upgrade the equipment to maintain security and be prepared for any unexpected threat, he explained.
The cabinet approved a proposal to obtain expressions of interest from interested aircraft manufacturers, assistant manufacturers, and authorized government agents. The deal will be on a government to government basis.-
The speculation is that during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, might have pushed the case of the F-17 Thunder fighter aircraft which Pakistan is producing in collaboration with China.
A serious attempt was made by Pakistan in late 2015 and early 2016 to sell the JF-17s to Sri Lanka in a US$ 400 million deal financed by Pakistan. But the attempt failed because India stood in the way through diplomatic action, as it considered Sri Lanka to be within its areas of influence in strategic terms.
Given the deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan as a result of the month-long violent agitation in Kashmir which Pakistan is openly exploiting to push its agenda, it is very likely that India will be concerned if there are renewed efforts by the Sri Lankans and Pakistanis to strike a deal over the F-17s.
However, Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said in an interview recently, that no decision had been taken on which aircraft to buy and from which country. At any rate, any purchase would be done after floating a tender and calling for bids as per standard government procedure, he added.
In 2015 and early 2016, India had no alternative to offer because its indigenously produced Light Combat Aircraft Tejas was still being developed. However, Sri Lanka’s state owned Sunday Observer carried a story quoting Sri Lankan Air Force commander, Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala, as saying that India had offered Tejas as an alternative. Subsequently, the Air Force spokesman denied the Sunday Observer story.
But India can offer Tejas now, as it has been test flown successfully and some aircraft are to join the Indian Air Force soon.