Sri Lanka: Defence Deal — SU30 Fighter (Part three)

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Why is the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force keen to buy 6 SU30MKI (The Sukhoi Su-30MKI) fighters which were devalued by him in the evaluation, on the basis that SU30MKI was an “over-kill”?


Read previous parts of this series: Part 1 and Part 2


by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(September 20, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It was the end last year.

“The negotiations were held from the 2nd of November until the 4th of November 2016 in c. Baranovichi at JSC “558 Aircraft repair plant” between:

Representatives of the company “Lanka Logistics and Technologies Limited”, Sri Lanka Air Force, Company “Czechoslovak Export Ltd.” on one side and

Representatives of JSC “558 Aircraft repair plant” JSC “ Rosoboronexport” , JSC “Company Irkut” on the other side,”
– Record in the minutes of the meeting for the negotiations on SU-39KMI aircraft for Sri Lanka, held in November 2016.

Dr. Lalith Liyanage, CEO of Lanka Logistics and Technologies Limited, Wing Commander RS Thiranagama and Wing Commander MCM Fernando joined the meeting on behalf of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Rybin, Mr. Pryshshepov, and Mr. Koldiouk from JSC “558 ARP”, Mr. Bereziuk from Rosoboronexport, Mr. Yurakov from the Company Iruk represented the other side, at the meeting.

Why do we need SU30MKI overhauled fighter aircrafts which were earlier used by the Indian Air Force and are now laying in the 558 ARP (Aircraft Repair Plant) in Belarus? 12 out of total overhauling SU30 already ordered by the Government of Angola, other 6 are waiting to be sold to Sri Lanka.

Latest news from Moscow stated thus; ‘during the visit of the Secretary Defence along with the selective air force officers and one Sri Lanka Navy officer; the crucial contract to buy the Gepard 5.1 Ship will be finalized before end of September.’

That will be the landmark business to end the power of this government – the key players in the joint opposition concluded.

Therefore, not only those who are in the business but also those in the joint opposition are keen to see the finalization of the deal, and worthless ship is to be deployed within the Sri Lankan maritime jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, other deals in the loop, buying overhauled 6SU30MKI and brand new BTR 82A Armoured Personnel Carriers ( APC) will be finalized by the end of this year. Buying 6 overhauled SU30MKI which at the moment are laying on a repairing plant in Belarus, are being claimed to be to enhance the national security in Sri Lanka, whereas the brand new Armoured Personnel Carriers are being planned to be used in the combat convoy battalion to be deployed in Mali, African continent.

Those are the major deals, the buyer, Sri Lanka, is planning to go ahead with, by using the state credit line offered by Russia on two occasions. As already mentioned, in 2010 Russian Federation offered its first credit line in post-war island nation, Sri Lanka, worth around US$ 300 Million. Subsequent to the first state credit line, the Russian Federation offered its second state credit line worth around US$ 400 Million, in 2017, during the state visit to Moscow, by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Eagle Eyes of Third Party Agents on State Credit lines by Russia

The term of the loan agreement for the first state credit line expired in March 2015. But the Ministry of Finance of Russia and the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) of Russia, on an exceptional basis, decided to finance the projects within the framework of the intergovernmental agreement of February 8, 2010.

According to reliable source in Moscow; “At a meeting held on August 23, 2017, the secretary Defense of Sri Lanka assured, that the agreement on the extension of the loan and the contract will be signed before the end of 2017.”

The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a multirole combat fighter aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). Image courtesy of g4sp.

Out of US$ 700 Million, around US$ 146 Million was used to buy 14 MI171 passenger helicopters which included 2 VVIPs via the local agent of Rossoboronexport. As mentioned in the second part of this investigative series, MI171 brand-new helicopters were brought to Sri Lanka in 2013. Therefore, around US$ 554 Million is remaining, and all those three deals are aiming to use the remaining credit.

The net amount is huge; third parties will not have to go through tender procedures but have access through personal relationships to benefit from this opportunity. This is quite different from the fatal situation encountered by the tender called under the disposal of surplus ordnance and equipment.

The Ministry of Defence obtained Cabinet Approval to sell 270 items of surplus arms and ammunition of Army, Navy and Airforce and published a tender through Lanka Logistics & Technologies Limited (LLTL). The tender opened on 19th September 2015. The present state of this tender is a disorderly mess. Let’s reserve this wrangling situation to unveil later, as there is an urgent issue to be addressed right now.

The Secretary Defense, who according to sources within his circle, has little knowledge about Defense but with regards to the subject he specialized in, there is no doubt that he is one of the top men the country ever produced. He has a remarkable and reliable legal mind this country has access to.

The bottom line is, this is the country where quite often people are installed in the position contrary to their depth of knowledge. Therefore they become nothing other than the tools of those who are cynically manipulating the system. The Ministry of Defence, unfortunately, is witnessing this fundamental wrongdoing for decades. Therefore, many third party agents and other bloodsuckers of the nation enjoyed impunity to waylay national assets by deepening state and foreign debt.

Sri Lanka Air Force, is still a little institutional player in public discourse, but is playing a pivotal role in National Security. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find credible officers who worked towards enhancing the managing principles to ensure the accountability and transparency of this institution and towards strengthening the moral power of its servicemen and servicewomen.

It is in the public domain how those who worked and commanded Sri Lanka Air Force were engaged in larger scale of corruption and mismanagement of the state resources. Controversial MiG27 deal was one of them which created political storm in Sri Lanka. “The Government of Sri Lanka has lost US$ 10.078 million by purchasing four MiG 27s whose life span has expired,” one of the investigations on MiG 27 deal exposed in 2007 August.

Since then, new political leadership with new promises have emerged. New government came into power. One of the usual promises was curbing corruption. Days, months and years are passing while creating a deep confusion in the minds of those who trusted the present ruling alliance. Despite all promises, the usual practice of looting the state resources is continuing. This is the sad reality in this nation. People are looking for a man who will truly stand with sweetness of sweating labours in the nation.

Gagan’s JF17

Let the story begin.

The appointment of current Air Force Commander Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy came in no time; and his predecessor was indeed shocked when he was informed that his service was no longer needed. Former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala’s retirement has significant implication on geo-political situation in the country.

It is an open secret that, both incumbent and former Air Force Commanders were not in good hands, and both strategically played each other to secure the position. Gagan was expecting the extension but the Ministry of Defence decided not to extend his service, resulting in the new commander occupying the chair.

The JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter was jointly developed by China and Pakistan

The official visit to China, by former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala was significant, where as per the records, he had confirmed the commercial offer by Republic of China to buy the JF17 fighter aircraft jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan.

The information available in the public domain explains the technical background of this fighter aircraft: “The Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder multi-role fighter was jointly developed by China and Pakistan. Development started in 1999. Aircraft made its maiden flight in 2003.”

Sri Lanka’s plan to buy JF17 created headline and immediately the Government of India expressed displeasure and urged Sri Lankan authority to annul the plan. The Indian order did not stop there.

Reliable sources indicated that, the Government of India has suggested replacing the order with HAL Theja, an Indian single-seat, single-jet engine, multirole light fighter. But, the Sri Lankan authorities maintained silence as they could not say no to the offer due to the external political implications. But, the Russian has fortunately offered an alliterative to HAL Theja, where they suggested buying Yakovlev Yak-130. In fact, in the evaluation report by the Sri Lankan Air Force has also recommended YAK130 as the practical solution. Yak 130 known as Mitton in the NATO circle is a subsonic two-seat advanced trainer aircraft.

Yakovlev Yak-130 and battle between JF 17 vs. SU30MKI

The details available in the public domain described the Yak130 as: “The Yakovlev Yak-130 is a subsonic two-seat advanced trainer aircraft originally developed by Yakovlev and Aermacchi. It has also been marketed as a potential light attack aircraft.”

This is where the real debate started. Yak 130 came into the main topic through a local agent of the Rossoboronaxport, which the Russian Federations also were endorsed.

However, subsequently due to strong protest from India, the Government of Sri Lanka expressed interest in buying SU30. Sri Lankan Air Force had to struggle to find ways to address these technical issues while third party agents’ suggestions were filling the ears of the decision makers.

The Air Force with the consultation of the Ministry of Defence appointed a “committee to compare and contrast the performance of JF17 against SU30MKI to determine the suitability of induction to SLAF fleet.”

The evaluation report was issued in June 2014. The committee was headed by then Air Vice Marshal KVB Jayampathy along with six other SLAF members, Air Cdre AWE Wijesuriya, Gp Capt WMKSP Weerasinghe, Gp Capt RS Wicramaratne, Wg Cdr DBV Weerasinghe, Wg Cdr USL Thotahewage, Wg Cdr AV Jayasekara.

“ Sri Lanka adopts a nonaligned, non-hegemonic foreign policy which does not pose a threat to her neighbours who are closely bounded and share common cultural values and traditions for centuries,” the committee noted in its threat perception at the beginning of the evaluation report.

558, The Belarus Aircraft Repair Plant

“To achieve more concentration will be on the SLAF roles in defensive Counter Air and Counter Sea air operations while lesser concentration would be given to Counter Land Operations due to the end of the military offensive in the LIC. It is therefore with this background that this technical evaluation of SU30MKI and JF17 is carried out,” the report further added its perception.

The members of the committee appointed by the then Commander of the Air Force were instructed to consider the following aspects when carrying out the evaluations;

a. Ability to meet the task and the role of the Air Force
b. Ease of transition of pilots from advance training
c. Ease of convention of pilots from other aircraft fleet
d. Availability of trainer/simulator for training pilots
e. Continued operation and maintainability in the SLAF
f. Special considerations if any for operation under local conditions
g. Availability of maintenance and operating manuals, parts catalogs, etc.

The committee report summarizes the challenges SLAF pilots were going to face if JF17 and SU30MKI, were purchased:

“14.The following challenges would be faced when graduating SLAF pilots to the JF 17.

a. The JF 17 and the F7 GS aircraft fall into a category of Light weight fighter. Therefore some similarities could be drawn when manoeuvering the aircraft in combat. In addition the AI radar work and medium range weapons handling shows similarity. In the absence of the trainer, extensive experience should be imparted on the student prior to graduating into the JF17. A threshold limit of 200 sorties on F 7 GS is suggested in this regard. With this the piolet should be sent for extensive simulator training in China or Pakistan prior to introducing them into the JF17.

b. Hands on experience flying the F7 GS would provide a sound foundation for the JF17. However Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) would be different due to the enhanced features.

15. The following challenges would be faced when graduating SLAF pilots to the SU30MKI.

a. An alternative course of training could be sought by inducting a trainer which offers the latest in aircraft design and avionics technology with SHUD/SMFD, fly-by-wire systems. Aircraft such as Lockheed Martin T50 Golden Eagle, Aeramacchi M 346, Yak130, Honglu JL 10 could be considered for this purpose.

b. By virtue of design, the cockpit of the SU30MKI is dual seat, and therefore offers the potential for any aircraft to serve as the trainer. This would assist in-house-conversion training of pilots. However, advance features such as fly-by-wire and trust vectoring would require and advanced level of skill which could be gathered by flying the F7 GS utilizing a higher number of training sorties. In addition, extensive simulator training should be carried out as required.”

The evaluation has clearly noted that the SU30 MKI cannot be worked by the SLAF, and the institution does not have the human resources to maintain such sophisticated overhauled supersonic third-generation fighter aircraft.

Jayampathy’s Evaluation not to buy SU30MKI

“At present most advanced fighter in the inventory of the SLAF is the F-7 GS aircraft. Only the F-7 pilots are capable of handling the Air Interceptor (AI) radar and second generation heat seeking AAMs within a limited battle space with the assistance of a Ground Controlled Interceptor Radar Controller to identify, track, intercept and launch the missile in short range 1 vs 1 air combat,” the evaluation report further indicated.

In the evaluation report, the committee categorically observed the practical difficulties that the SLAF pilots were going to face if they purchased SU30MKI. Here is the observation:

“Both the JF17 and the SU30MKI offer the latest in Avionics and Flight Control characteristics in varying degrees, such as negative static stability characters and enhanced SMFDs, SHUDs. These features enhance the complexity of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) and Air Apace Management (ASM). Hence, it would not be feasible to graduate pilots directly from K8 Advanced Trainer to either the JF 17 or the SU30 MKI is to transit through the F7 GS. However, the transition from F7 GS to JF 17 will be relatively smooth and gradual when compared with the direct transition to SU30MKI where adaption on new complex environment is inevitable,” the evaluators headed by the present Commander of Air Force, Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy suggested.

Meanwhile observing the Air Force capabilities of neighboring countries, Pakistan and India are committing as follows:

“Pakistani Air Force who is the only operational users of the JF17 as at to date, graduate experienced fighter pilots from F16, Mirage and F7 PG fighters. This is after extensive training on simulators and ground training as the JF 17 does not have its own trainer version yet.”

Whereas, the “ Indian Air Force, who operates a fleet of over 200 SU30 fighters also take in pilots with experience on 3rd or 4th generation MiG 29 and Mirage 2000 Fighters.”

Russia’s Lethal Yak-130 Fighter: The Tiny Terror NATO Should Fear, US Magazine The National Interest warned in 2015. Image courtesy: The National Interest

This conclusion again indicated that neither JF17 nor SU30MKI is suitable to purchase for the SLAF.

The evaluation report clearly states: “ … On the other hand though negotiations are underway on the setting up of a maintenance centre for Russian helicopters, given the sophistication levels of the SU30 MKI it is doubtful whether any aspect of 3rd line maintenance could be integrated. Thus with the limited data available and using that of open sources it is envisaged that for the JF-17 a certain degree of 3rd line servicing maybe transferred but for the SU30MKI all 3rd line servicing will be outsourced to Russia or possibly India. ….. ”

The evaluation report further detailed why the SU30MKI is not suitable with the capabilities of the Air Force.

“However, considering the present and expected task and role of the SLAF both aircraft are considered to be suitable for the task with the JF 17 making the better match whereas the SU 30 MKI would be somewhat of an ‘over-kill’,” the report recommended.

“Training pilot to fly the JF 17 is much smoother than the SU30 MKI utilizing the present assets of the SLAF”, the evaluation report concluded.

No need to repeat that it has been very clearly explained and evaluated that the Sri Lanka Air Force as the premier state force of the Island nation to defend our borders in the air, has no need to buy the SU30MKI supersonic overhauled fighter aircraft.

But, according to reliable sources, all set is to buy the SU30 MKI which is probably another similar kind of weapons deal like the Russian Ship which is nothing but further burden to the people of this country.

Meanwhile producing the counter-argument to the incapability of the SLAF to work the SU30MKI, one of the sources who is heading a private entity unveiled to this writer the other side of this business.

In his clarification, he says, the SU30MKI overhauled fighter aircraft are being made available at much cheaper price and therefore the Ministry of Defence should proceed with the purchase.

However, it is peculiar that Present Air Force Commander Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy would decide to agree to go ahead with the deal contrary to his previous evaluation. Why is that? That is the million dollar question to be answered.


Let’s unveil the opinion of the other side where those who are recommending buying 6 SU30 MKI supersonic overhauled fighter aircrafts, in next part of this series.


To be continued

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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