Bowing down to stiff opposition from India, Sri Lanka has shelved its plan to buy JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan.
The Pakistani media reported in December that Colombo would sign a deal for JF-17s with Islamabad in near future. Soon after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to the tiny Island nation, the Sri Lankan government confirmed that no such agreement was signed during the Pak PM’s three-day trip.
Colombo said in a statement that it had made a final decision regarding the purchase after considering the negative technical aspects of the JF-17 Thunder aircraft. The Sri Lankan government also said that the South Asian country’s defence requirements did not need such fighters.
Meanwhile, a senior Sri Lankan Defence Ministry official stressed that India had advised President Maithripala Sirisena not to strike the USD 400 million-deal with Pakistan, saying that acquisition of JF-17 Thunder fighter jets would be a “wrong” decision. Although Prime Minister Sharif and President Sirisena signed a number of agreements in Colombo, the sale of aircraft was not one of them. Interestingly, Pakistan, despite its own financial crunch, was ready to extend a line of credit to Sri Lanka for the aircraft deal.
In 2015, Pakistan told the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) to replace its Chinese fighter aircraft and ageing fleet of Israeli Kfirs and MiG-27s with JF-17 Thunder aircraft with JF-17 Thunder jets. Islamabad also planned to sell 10-12 fighter jets, each priced about USD 35 million. Even SLAF Chief Gagan Bulathsinhala had decided to visit Pakistan for assessing the aircraft at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra.
The proposed deal raised concerns in India, as New Delhi believes that such a move could increase and widen contacts between Sri Lanka and Pakistan (and Chinese security forces), thus, creating fresh trouble in its backyard. India urged Sri Lanka not to take any steps that could pose a serious security threat to the former. After assessing different aspects of its ties with India, Colombo accepted New Delhi’s advice and shelved its plan to purchase fighter jets from Pakistan.