Ukrainian MiG 27 deal beneficial to SLAF says ex-commander

‘Final payments in $ 14 mn deal were made at the conclusion of the war’


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetileke yesterday said that an agreement with Ukraine as regards overhauling of four MiG 27s and acquisition of four overhauled MiGs had been finalized to Sri Lanka’s advantage.

The agreement had been reached in the run-up to the eelam war IV in August 2006, ACM Goonetileke said, adding that the final payments were made after having used MiGs with devastating success. MiGs carried out 854 sorties using explosives weighing 1,071 tonnes.

The celebrated No 12 squadron based at Katunayake air base consisted of MiGs. The No 12 squadron was meant to supplement the No 10 squadron comprising Israeli Kfirs, also based at Katunayake. Sri Lanka acquired Kfirs during 1996.

"Final payments for MiGs were made at the conclusion of the offensive," ACM Goonetileke said in an exclusive with The Island. Nearly six years after the eradication of terrorism, people had conveniently forgotten that a MiG 27 had teamed up with a Kfir to carry out target killing of LTTE front liner S. P. Thamilchelvam on the morning of Nov. 2, 2007 in Kilinochchi.

The combined security forces brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.

The Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) on March 27 questioned ACM Goonetileke regarding controversial MiG transaction finalised during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President. Son of one-time SLAF Commander ACM Harry Goonetileke, Roshan lost his brother, Shirantha in an LTTE missile attack on an Avro as it approached Palaly air base on the morning of April 29, 1995.

Asked whether he had benefited financially for choosing MiG 27s, ACM Goonetileke said that enhancing of SLAF’s power had been a national priority. ACM Goonetileke said: "In the wake of an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka in April 2005 and assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar prompted the military to reassess the situation. We realized an all-out war was inevitable. Therefore, preparations were made."

ACM Donald Perera had sought Defence Ministry approval in Feb 2006 for overhauling of four MiGs and acquisition of four additional MiGs, ACM Goonetileke said. According to him, the total cost of the transaction had cost the taxpayer $ 14 mn. In accordance with the agreement, Ukraine had overhauled four MiGs in SLAF inventory in addition to supplying four overhauled MiGs. Unfortunately a section of the media at the behest of interested parties had accused the previous government of paying $ 14 mn for four new additions to the MiG fleet.

Responding to another query, ACM Goonetileke said that in line with the agreement Sri Lanka had paid 25 per cent of the total value of the overhaul when the SLAF team flew in to Ukraine to accept the four new additions to its MiG fleet. Once the SLAF took delivery of the aircraft at Katunayake, another 25 per cent of the payment had been made though the remaining 50 per cent was paid in 2009. The two giant aircraft which carried the four new additions ferried the four MiGs that needed overhauling to Ukraine free of freight charges. ACM Goonetileke said that he welcomed the investigation as it would give him an opportunity to clear the SLAF of any wrongdoing.

ACM Goonetileke said that the supplier allowed the SLAF to deploy four overhauled additional MiGs against the LTTE after paying 50 per cent of their value. The remaining amount had been paid in two instalments at the conclusion of the war, he explained.

Sri Lanka acquired MiGs in 2000 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. According to ACM Goonetileke, the SLAF had obtained seven MiGs, including one MiG 23 trainer during 2000. The acquisition had been carried out in two phases, with the SLAF procuring four aircraft in spite of them due to undergo first airframe overhaul. The situation on the northern theatre of operations had been so bad, the SLAF needed to enhance its fire power as soon as possible, the former air chief said. "We pressed for the acquisition. Following special checks at the Ukrainian factory, the SLAF took delivery of four aircraft. We were authorized to use them for two years. Subsequently one-year extension was given," Goonetileke said.

The retired Chief of Defence Staff said that of the seven MiGs acquired in 2000, the SLAF lost three and for want of overhauling the remaining aircraft had been grounded as the combined forces prepared to face the LTTE threat.

Soft spoken Goonetileke recalled the circumstances under which a tender called by the SLAF to overhaul the four remaining aircraft of those acquired during 2000 had been cancelled. "This cancellation was done during Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement. Perhaps, the then government felt there was no requirement to overhaul aircraft due to CFA."

However, the SLAF had to enhance its firepower to overwhelm the LTTE. ACM Goonetileke said that the No 10 Kfir and No 5 F7 GS squadrons carried out about 1,400 and 400 sorties, respectively during the eelam war IV. Altogether the jet squadrons carried out about 2,700 sorties. The No 10 Kfir squadron comprised ten machines. The SLAF acquired four Chinese F7 GS, the most sophisticated jet in Sri Lanka’s arsenal, in January 2008.

At the conclusion, ACM Goonetileke alleged that those finding fault with acquisition of armaments didn’t realize the difficulties experienced by Sri Lanka during the war. Acquisition of armaments had been nothing but a constant struggle, he noted, adding that the role played by jet squadron comprising MiGs, Kfirs and F7 GS would never be forgotten by those who fought on the frontlines, unlike arm chair experts and those seeking to discredit the air force.

Another observer said the critics who tried to make a big issue over the entire cost of the deal of US $14 million conveniently forget that many air forces around the world pay many times more for even a single fighter aircraft and for the price tag that the Sri Lanka paid for those aircraft it was quite cheap even going by the tasks they achieved.

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