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Questions over SLAF’s aircraft purchase deals running into a staggering Rs. 64.8 billion
Published Date: 10/06/2018 (Sunday)

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has ambitious plans to purchase helicopters of different makes and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at a staggering cost of more than Rs 64.8 billion, according to documents seen by the Sunday Times. The Defence Ministry is expected to appoint a Technical Evaluation Committee for this purpose. An earlier committee ceased to function after a senior officer of the rank of Air Vice Marshal retired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US-made Bell 412 helicopter

The major portion of the planned procurement is ten Mi 171 SH Russian-built transport-cum-combat helicopters. For this purpose, a partly used US$ 300 million credit line, which lapsed in 2015 and has been renewed by Russia to allow Sri Lanka to purchase a Gepard 5.1 Offshore Patrol Vessel OPV), is to be utilised. This makes clear that the Government will not go ahead with the controversial OPV deal. It has been enormously costly compared to OPVs provided by India.

The SLAF also wants to purchase four more Mi 17 helicopters at a cost of more than Rs 14.3 billion for use in United Nations assignments as peace keepers. It is mandatory in terms of UN rules that forces joining UN peace keeping missions in trouble spots around the world undertake assignments with their own equipment. Such investment takes long years to recover. In the case of a Sri Lanka Army deployment, it was originally estimated it would be five years but it continued thereafter. This as well as the ten helicopters for SLAF use will come from the original manufacturers, Ulan Ude plant in Russia.
The other purchases cover:

Russian-built MI 171 SH combat / transport helicopters

Four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. This is at a cost of Rs 6.2 billion.

  •  The purchase of six trainer helicopters at a cost of more than Rs 4.87 billion.
  •  The purchase of two Bell 414 helicopters for VVIP use at a cost of More than Rs 11.48 billion.

In addition, the purchase of two used Bell 206 B Bell Jet Ranger helicopters has also been planned. The entire Bell helicopter deal is to be financed through an intermediary in Singapore. He is said to arrange for foreign loans but the identity of the party is still not known. If the deal works out, this would be a rare occasion when the SLAF will procure used helicopters or for that matter even Bell 414s for VVIP transport since they are relatively small. Among the varied arguments used is the reluctance of western VIPs to fly in Russian made helicopters. Yet, the Mi 17 transport-cum-combat helicopters are among those in the United Nations inventory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US-made Bell Jet Ranger

An expenditure of more than Rs 64.8 billion, only for the Air Force, does raise some questions. Firstly there is no war and more importantly such massive purchases have not taken place at that time. An argument in favour of the move, however, is that the equipment used by the tri services would have to be updated and modernised.

However, with a badly deteriorating economy, questions are being raised on the wisdom of ploughing vast amounts of tax payers’ money into military procurements. This is even without identifying the major threat perceptions. Moreover, this is at a time when some western governments too have begun to demand downsizing the military for continued assistance in some sectors of the economy.

One aspect which has not been adequately addressed is the troop strength and equipment requirements after the Tiger guerrillas were militarily defeated in 2009. The fact that different helicopter manufacturers are being considered underscores the absence of any standardisation and continuing ad hoc approach. The fact that what is procured on credit has to be repaid for generations to come is lost.

 Source: The Sunday Times

 

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