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 to be on par with the changing world.
He said that 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 ‘Janes 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 said that efforts to secure an agreement in principle for the sale of the JF-17 Thunder was 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 Janes 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 that Sri Lanka needs to secure its airspace and so needs to have jets with advanced technology even if there is no war.
He said that 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 Janes 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. (Colombo Gazette)