London, May 6 : China and Pakistan are wheeling and dealing in a big way to influence the Sri Lankan leadership to buy the highly-flawed JF-17 multi-role fighter jet in a deal which promises at least four million dollars per jet as kickbacks to those who are pushing for this sale. According to a report in the Sri Lanka-based web site www.thesundayleader.lk, a former air force chief and a big business wheeler-dealer are attempting to influence the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) to acquire the multi-role JF-17 ‘Fierce Dragon’ fighter aircraft that has been jointly developed by both China and Pakistan, at a price said to be higher than what is on offer from other international combat aircraft manufacturers. According to 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 Air Force Commander Gagan Bulathsinhala too has made a few visits to Pakistan for the same reason. It is also being alleged that Air Marshal Weerakkody, who was later posted to Pakistan as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner, continued to discuss the JF-17 purchase with the Pakistani officials. Recalled to Sri Lanka after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, Weerakkody is still a frequent visitor to the SLAF headquarters to get this deal through.
The web site quoted an SLAF unnamed source, as saying that the JF-17 will cost the SLAF a staggering USD 29 million, while the same aircraft can be purchased from a reputed Russian manufacturer at a cost ranging between USD 20 and USD 25 million. The source further alleges that both China and Pakistan are well aware that the JF-17 has no takers in the international air force circuit, but middlemen in these two countries appear determined to promote this aircraft and get a commission of more than USD four million per aircraft. According to the source, the JF-17 is an indigenous product and a country like Sri Lanka is not in a position to invest such a huge amount on jet fighters whose qualities are largely unknown. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan government has to take into account the security-related concerns of the Indian government, which is also keen to offer the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-manufactured multi-role Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ to Colombo. The source said that there is no doubt that the SLAF is in dire need to purchase combat aircrafts. The Sunday leader web site has quoted SLAF sources, as saying that the air force had failed to get the required sanction for the purchase of the jet fighters during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, and added that whatever has been purchased so far has been through shady deals with and from disreputable companies. The SLAF is keen to purchase eight new fighter aircraft and does want to spend time overhauling its existing fleet of planes at a prohibitive cost of about USD three million per aircraft. Reports suggest that with pressure mounting on Sri Lanka, incumbent 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. Sources said that the present commanders of the three defence services and a representative from Sri Lanka Logistics are currently in Russia to discuss the purchase of the aircraft for the SLAF. However, SLAF spokesman Group Captain Chandima Alwis has said that the air force is carrying out a due diligence study of potential fighter aircraft suppliers in the event the SLAF need to add to their existing fleet. The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) presently has a fleet of Israeli Kfirs and Russian-made MiG-27s.