COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is to buy China-made Xian Y20 military-cum civil transport planes, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told South China Morning Post.
“I have travelled around in some of the Chinese transport planes we have. They are good workhorses. Some people have raised questions about their quality but I have always said, ‘Look, as far as I am concerned, I will always underwrite Chinese military transport planes’. We will buy two more,” Wickremesinghe said.
China’s newly developed Xian Y-20 would be in contention if Sri Lanka is looking to buy more Chinese military transport craft, making it one of the first countries outside China to get the new plane.
Codenamed “Kunpeng” after a mythical Chinese bird, Y-20 makes China the third nation after Russia and the United States to design and develop its own heavy military transport aircraft.
Y 20 is the largest military aircraft currently in production and the first cargo aircraft to use 3D printing technology. It was officially inducted into service by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in July.
“The only thing is getting the US federal aviation clearance, without which there might be insurance issues for Western tourists. Since our airports have excess capacity, we will try to get dual-use military planes that can also carry tourists. We are talking to the Chinese to see if we can get planes that can conform to these norms,” Wickremesinghe said.
“Logically it makes sense for Sri Lanka to buy strategic transport aircraft because the old ones are not serviceable in a cost-effective manner,” he added.
But according to IHS Jane’s aerospace analyst, Ben Moores, the plane wouldn’t come cheap.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, however, wouldn’t let on which way he is swinging with fighter jets which his country is going to buy.
Although there is no war in Sri Lanka now and there is no threat from outside either, the Sri Lankan Air Force needs to replace its ageing fleet of Russian and Israeli fighter bombers and train itself to face a future threat despite the burden any new purchases will foist on the debt-ridden country.
Colombo was expected to sign a deal to purchase up to 12 JF-17s co-developed by Pakistan and China in January. The deal was cancelled after intense diplomatic manoeuvres by India, which has been trying to sell its own “Tejas” to the strategically located Indian Ocean island nation.
“China, India, Sweden and Russia have made offers, we are studying them,” Wickremesinghe said.
Although India offered the Tejas, it was not ready at that time, as it was undergoing development and trials. Since then, a squadron has joined the Indian Air Force. But the Indian Navy has rejected the aircraft saying that it is unsuitable for use in aircraft carriers and that it has to undergo further development.
Apparently, Sri Lanka is not particularly interested in acquiring fighter jets now because there is no threat either from the LTTE or any country in the region. But it is interested in transport aircraft, especially if they can be used for military and civil purposes. Sri Lanka needs planes which can carry passengers and cargo. The island has many air fields of World War II vintage but these have remained unused because governments have not developed domestic air transport preferring to rely on road transport.
A recent report said that government is going to ask the Air Force to run a domestic airline. During the war ,the Air Force had run a service between Colombo and Jaffna on a commercial basis, replacing some private operators.