The Eastern Front

Dhaka junks Sino-Russian aircraft, Chinese Navy to get improved combat aircraft

Prasun K. Sengupta

Extremely peeved by China’s and Russia’s support to Myanmar’sstand on the Rohingya refugee issue, Bangladesh’s Awami League-led government has decided to get rid of the Bangladesh Air Force’s (BAF) existing fleet of China-/Russia-origin combat aircraft and go for an initial 16 Eurofighter EF-2000 medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA) from Italy’s Leonardo Group. The BAF presently operates Chengdu F-7MBs and MiG-29B-12s that were procured two decades ago.

The BAF zeroed in on the EF-2000 back in 2015, following the appointment of the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Abu Esrar, who had conducted an evaluation of the EF-2000 during the 2016 Farnborough International Air show. Esrar’s successor, ACM Masihuzzaman Serniabat, was equally enthusiastic, but a detailed evaluation of the M-MRCA with Leonardo’s assistance had to be aborted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now Serniabat’s successor, ACM Shaikh Abdul Hannan, has been tasked with the completion of the EF-2000 procurement process.

Bangladesh’s Directorate General Defence Purchase (DGDP) had floated a global tender in 2017 for the procurement of eight M-MRCAs, plus options for an additional four, under the Forces Goal 2030 modernisation programme. Later increased to 16 M-MRCAs, the tender had specified the requirement for a new-build, twin-engined M-MRCA, with each of its turbofans producing at least 12,125 pounds of dry thrust and more than 17,635 pounds with afterburner. The minimum weapons payload was to be five tonnes carried on at least eight weapons hard-points. Additional specifications had called for the M-MRCAs to be equipped with active electronically scanned array multi-mode radar (AESA-MMR) with an air-to-air range of 93 miles and an air-to-surface range of 31 miles, an infra-red search and track (IRST) system, and an integrated electronic warfare (EW) suite.

The BAF’s combat aircraft fleet comprises around 44 units, comprising eight MiG-29B-12s and MiG-29UBs assigned to No.8 Squadron located at Dhaka’s Kurmitola (Bangabandhu air base), 28 Chengdu F-7BGs and four FT-7BGs assigned to Nos.5 and 35 Squadrons at the same location. The older 16 F-7MBs and eight FT-7MBs have been decommissioned. Four of the MiG-29s were upgraded to MiG-29BM/UBM standards in Belarus between 2019 and 2020 and the remaining four are expected to be upgraded as well.

To date, under the 2009-vintage Bangladesh Armed Forces Forces Goal 2030 modernisation programme, the BAF received 16 Yak-130 advanced jet trainer and light combat aircraft that were ordered in 2013, and it had planned to procure eight Sukhoi Su-30SME heavy-MRCAs in 2017. However, relations with Moscow deteriorated after it supported Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee issue and worsened after Russia agreed to sell the Yak-130 and Su-30SME to Myanmar while offering the MiG-35 to the BAF.

A miffed Dhaka consequently began drawing up plans for earmarking around 25,200 Crore Taka (USD3 billion) for 16 EF-2000s, starting with an advance sum of 6,300 Crore Taka for the financial year 2021-22, which would have enabled the BAF to seek a complete package with aircraft, support, training, a variety of guided-weapons, and the creation of localised maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facilities. Apart from the difficulties experienced by Dhaka in procuring Su-30SMEs, the BAF wanted to ensure that it enjoyed technological superiority over its Myanmarese counterpart, which was the reason why the BAF chose to reject the single-engined Chengdu J-10CE, Saab JAS-39 Gripen NG and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block-52. Although Italy-based Leonardo Group is the designated Eurofighter consortium’s industrial partner to market the EF-2000 in Bangladesh, it is now certain that the UK-based BAE System would also support the procurement process. The report following the third Bangladesh-UK strategic dialogue in 2019 had stated: ‘The UK further expressed its readiness to support Bangladesh with the procurement of high-calibre multi-role combat aircraft alongside other modernisation programmes.’

Bangladesh’s procurement of Italy-origin military hardware has been increasing since the previous decade. In July 2014 the BAF had ordered two AW139 intermediate twin-engine helicopters from Leonardo for maritime search and rescue (SAR) and other utility missions. In June 2017, the BAF ordered a RAT-31 DL/M long-range airspace surveillance radar worth 147 crore Taka for installation in Barisal to bolster air-defences in the country’s southern region. In September that same year, the Bangladesh Navy ordered Leonardo’s Seaspray-5000E AESA-MMR for its two RUAG Do-228NG multi mission surveillance aircraft. And in October 2019 the BAF ordered Leonardo’s KRONOS LAND C-band AESA air-defence radars for its current and emerging gap filler radar requirements. The KRONOS LAND has an air surveillance range of 250km.

It now remains to be seen if the BAF will eventually buy two EMB-145I ‘Netra’ AEW & C platforms from India, which are on offer along with a related line-of-credit. The BAF had evinced interest in procuring this platform four years ago.


PLAN’s FC-35 Gryfalcon Progresses

The definitive carrier-based M-MRCA of China’s PLA Navy (PLAN)—the Shenyang FC-35 ‘Gryfalcon’—has entered the prototype development stage, with service-entry being planned for 2026. The existence of this project had been revealed by the author four years ago (see FORCE January 2018, pages 64-65). Two FC-35 prototypes featuring catapult launch-bars and foldable wings were spotted at the PLAN’s Aircraft Carrier Aviation Test and Training Base at Huangdicun in early November 2021.

You must be logged in to view this content.





Call us