JF-17 thunder fighter jets
Sri Lanka has cancelled its plans to procure JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan.wikipedia/Peng Chen

The Sino-Pakistani collaborative multi-role jet fighter, JF-17 Thunder, has according to various reports had a "false start". Pakistan had earlier revealed that countries like Malaysia and Sri Lanka were interested in this low-cost fighter. It was even suggested that a deal had been signed for eight JF-17 fighters.

It was expected that the deal could be taken forward during the recent visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Colombo. The Colombo Gazette quoted Sri Lankan Defence Minister Karunasena Hettiarachchi as saying the JF-17 discussion was not on the table. He also said if there is a requirement of aircraft of that nature, then it would be a transparent process, and "expressions of interest will be called for from all concerned".

Some Indian reports claimed the deal was cancelled following New Delhi's "diplomatic missive" to Sri Lanka asking them to defer buying the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, since it does not need a multi-role fighter aircraft.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had promised a balance in Sri Lanka's foreign policy after his predecessor was seen tilting towards China. The change in regime could have helped India.

IDRW, an Indian defence portal, has said its sources claim India is offering to transfer some of the "upgraded MiG-27" fighter aircraft free of cost to Sri Lanka instead of the yet-to-be-operationalised LCA Tejas.

The Sri Lankan Air Force has at least six MiG-27 aircraft in service. It has initially bought 10, but lost three and one was destroyed. Moreover, India helps train Sri Lankan Air Force pilots and aircrew. So, this might work out in favour of the Sri Lankans.

Meanwhile, another country Pakistan claimed was interested in the aircraft was Malaysia, but its defence minister denied reports that Malaysia had considered buying JF-17 aircraft. Other reports have claimed Nigeria and Myanmar were also interested in JF-17 fighter aircraft.

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