Sri Lanka procuring defence equipment from China

by S Venkat Narayan Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, June 4: Sri Lanka signed several significant defence agreements with China in April this year to equip its defence forces to take on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Britain's renowned Jane's Defence Weekly reported in its latest issue.

Citing exclusive access to an internal Sri Lankan cabinet document, the weekly reported that Sri Lanka had signed a classified $37.6 million deal with China's Poly Technologies in April to supply its defence forces with ammunition and ordnance for the army and navy in addition to varied small arms.

The largest single order with Poly Technologies is for 120 mm mortar shells for the army, of which 70,000 rounds are priced at $10.4 million.

Additional imports include 68,000 rounds of varied 152 mm artillery shell worth nearly $20 million besides 50,000 81 mm high-explosive mortar bombs for $3.7 million, all of which the army needs to reinforce its 'pro-active' military strategy against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The navy's requirement valued at$ 2.7 million includes a varied range of ammunition like 100,000 14.5 mm cartridges, 2,000 RPG-7 rockets and 500 81 mm airburst mortar shells.

According to Jane's, there are also 50 Type 82 14.5 mm twin-barrel naval guns, 200 Type 85 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, 200 Type 80 7.62 mm multipurpose machine guns, 1,000 Type 56-2 7.62 mm submachine guns and 1,000 Type 56 7.62 mm submachine guns.

China is also helping Sri Lanka augment its air defence capability in the wake of the four air strikes by the fledgling Tamil Tiger air force during March-April. Some international airlines declined to operate night flights to Colombo after the Tamil Eelam Air Force's attack on the Colombo airport.

The China National Electronics Import Export Corp will provide Sri Lanka a JY 11 3D radar for $5 million over the next few weeks once the site for its location near Colombo is ready.

The contract for the radar was also concluded by Gotabaya Rajapakse for the Lanka Logistics and Technologies Co Ltd in his capacity as its head.

(During his meetings with top Indian decision-makers here last week, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother Gotabaya conveyed to them that 'security compulsions' are driving Colombo to seek military equipment from China, Pakistan and other suppliers.

(He is also reported to have informed India's security establishment that Colombo 'understood' New Delhi's internal political compulsions, thus foreclosing enhanced military co-operation between the two neighbours. He was apparently making a direct reference to Tamil Nadu.

(A bilateral defence agreement between Colombo and New Delhi drawn up over two years ago remains 'hostage' to India's Tamil concerns. This, in turn, forces Colombo to seek alternate weapon suppliers).

According to the weekly, Colombo has declined to renew its long standing agreement with China's North Industries Corporation (Norinco) for defence equipment. Instead, it  opting for Poly Technologies, founded as a rival in 1984 by Beijing's military establishment.

While outwardly a subsidiary of the China International Trust and Investment Corp, military analysts say that in reality the Beijing-based Poly Technologies is a 'front company' for China's military-industrial complex. It reports to the armament department of the People's Liberation Army General Staff Department and is authorized to sell conventional military equipment including short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

While the reasons for the Sri Lankan government switching to Poly Technologies appear unclear, it seems the change was prompted by the $200 million debt it owes Norinco, which has maintained a bonded warehouse in the southern port city of Galle since 1993.

Colombo's long-standing agreement with Norinco was exclusive, and expressly prohibited Sri Lanka from sourcing specific military items from any another Chinese supplier. However, the contract with Poly Technologies contravenes this clause, seemingly invalidating the earlier agreement providing the Sri Lankan military an alternate material supplier, Jane's points out.

The agreement with Poly Technologies, however, 'aims to avoid the development of any debt through a system of staggered payments', necessitating an advance 25% payment and the balance payable in 10 quarterly installments.

Colombo had initially ordered the JY 11 radar two years ago, making payments in advance but was forced to call off the deal following Indian protests that the system would 'over arch' into its air space.

Thereafter, India supplied Sri Lanka two Indra IN-PC-2D radars free of charge and is believed to have agreed to Colombo's request for at least one more following the spate of LTTE air raids.

The Indra radars have become a source of tension with India, with some Sri Lankan officials claiming they failed to detect the ingress by a Tamil Tiger propeller aircraft to an air force base outside Colombo in March. Three airmen were killed and 16 wounded in the attack.

Sri Lanka is also negotiating with the Chinese conglomerate for three additional mobile radars for use across the country as the second Tiger air strike was conducted against the government's Palaly military base in Jaffna peninsula.

In a related development, Sri Lanka is also planning on acquiring an unspecified number of MiG 29 fighters to boost its air power. The director of Aeronautical Engineering, Air Vice Marshal Prashantha de Silva, is scheduled to visit Moscow to discuss the acquisition, Jane's has further reported.

Sri Lankan officials are also planning visiting Ulan Ude in Russia to negotiate the purchase of four helicopter gunships, and to Ukraine for talks on overhauling and possibly upgrading An 32 transport aircraft.   


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