Sri Lanka nears purchase of MiG-29s

March 15th, 2008 - 11:20 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of F-16
By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 15 (IANS) Sri Lanka is in advanced talks with Russia to buy five MiG-29 fighter-bomber aircraft, according to Jane’s Defence Forecasts. In a report dated March 14, Jane’s quoted Jayantha Wickramasinghe, CEO of Sri Lanka’s sole defence equipment buying agency, Lanka Logistics and Technologies Ltd., as saying that talks were “well under way” for buying four MiG-29 SMs and one MiG-29 UB.

The procurement follows the emergence of the rebel Tamil Tiger air wing called the Tamileelam Air Force (TAF), equipped with two or three light, propeller-driven Zlin-Z 143 aircraft.

The TAF had bombed the Sri Lanka Air Force’s main base in Katunayake, north of Colombo on March 26, and struck at Colombo city on April 29 last year.

According to reliable sources, the SLAF is very keen on the purchase of MiG 29s, and pilots are already being trained to use these highly sophisticated aircraft.

Nicknamed “Fulcrum” by NATO, the MiG-29 came into existence in 1983 as an answer to the American F-16. The MiG-29 is a rugged multi-role aircraft. It can be used for close support to ground troops. It can make do even with damaged frontline airstrips.

The equipment and weapons on board depend on the needs of the buyer, but the aircraft can carry precision or laser guided bombs and air to surface missiles apart from conventional bombs. It is fortified with electronic defence systems.

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) now has seven MiG-27s, which are used as ground attack aircraft. In addition, it has two Kfir C7s and eight Kfir C2s fighter-bombers, according to Wikipedia.

Since the start of the most recent series of military operations in April 2006, the SLAF has been regularly bombing the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the north and east of the island.

The SLAF claims a deadly accuracy in these missions. Several Tiger military establishments have been destroyed. The SLAF has claimed that it has destroyed the Tigers’ only known airfield in Iranamadu in the Wanni jungles.

Although their purchase had been mired in controversy, the MiG-27s in the SLAF have done ” wonderfully well” in the battles so far, according to SLAF chief, Air Marshal Roshan Goonatilleke.

The aerial threat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) arose after the SLAF started bombing the Tiger-held areas on April 25, 2006.

The Katunayake airbase and some economic targets in the nearby capital city of Colombo were bombed from the air on March 26 and April 29, 2007. The raiders came and returned to their base in the Wanni unchallenged over a distance of 600 km.

The LTTE has also staged ground attacks against the SLAF bases. The one on Katunayake air base on July 24, 2001, resulted in the destruction of 13 aircraft, including two Kfir jet fighters, one MiG-27 and one MI-24 helicopter gunship. Three civilian aircraft were also destroyed in the pre-dawn strike.

More recently, on Oct 22, 2007, LTTE commandos, joined later by two Zlin-Z 143 aircraft, struck at the Saliyapura airbase near Anuradhapura in north central Sri Lanka, and destroyed eight aircraft, which were mostly used for training purposes.

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