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
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
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
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
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
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.