Pakistan has reportedly upped the ante in its ongoing campaign to sell eight Pakistan Aeronautical Complex/Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (PAC/CAC) JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to Sri Lanka. According to ANI News Service, Islamabad has purportedly offered Colombo an F-7 fighter for free for each JF-17 the Sri Lankan Air Force purchases from Pakistan. (The F-7 is China’s license-built version of the MiG-21, a supersonic third-generation fighter jet.)
Furthermore, Pakistan has hired a Singapore-based consultancy group to assist with lobbying efforts. ANI News Service also claims that Islamabad has attempted to offer kickbacks to Sri Lankan government officials. “According to sources, Pakistan has attempted to reach out to the key political leaders and officials through two separate entities that have been assigned for this task. One is a front company of the Pakistan Air Force, with links and a base in Colombo. This team is being assisted by a former Pakistan High Commissioner in Colombo,” the media report claims.
None of these claims could be verified independently and neither Pakistan nor Sri Lanka have so far publicly commented on the news report.
As The Diplomat reported last year, the Sri Lankan government, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, canceled its plans to procure the JF-17 after alleged pressure from India not to add these aircraft to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).
New Delhi purportedly sent a report to Colombo outlining that the JF-17 does not meet the SLAF’s requirements. As an alternative, India tried to pitch its Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, so far, however without success (See: “Outwitting Pakistan: India Offers Sri Lanka Its Newest Fighter Jet”).
Besides Indian pressure, Sri Lanka was also reportedly left unimpressed by Pakistan’s failure to offer a credit or financing program.
Following the alleged cancellation of the JF-17 order in January 2016, the Sri Lankan government announced in August of the same year its intention to purchase eight to 12 new multirole combat aircraft for the SLAF. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense was officially tasked to solicit offers from foreign aircraft manufacturers for the procurement of new aircraft and associated weapons systems on a government-to-government basis.
Interestingly, the official announcement coincided with an official two-day visit of the chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Air Chief Marshall Sohail Aman, to Sri Lanka. As I reported elsewhere, the SLAF fighting strength has been severely depleted as a result of inadequate pilot training and maintenance, as well as the Sri Lankan Civil War:
The SLAF’s fighter fleet currently consists of one single Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Kfir multi-role combat aircraft. While the Kfir uses the same airframe as the French-made Dassault Mirage 5, it is equipped with Israeli avionics and an Israeli-built variant of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine. From 1995 to 2005, Sri Lanka acquired a total of 16 Kfir fighter jets from Israel. At least seven aircraft were lost due to accidents or ground attacks on airbases during the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Up until now, the Sri Lankan government has not made a selection and one can expect the India-Pakistan competition over the contract to intensify in the months ahead.