Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bangladesh air force eyes upgrades and new aircraft

Bangladesh's air force is embarking on a major modernisation drive. The service hopes to upgrade some of its fighters and helicopters in the near term and new trainers and light attack aircraft over the longer term in the plan. The air force prepared an internal report on the issue in June and submitted it to parliament for approval, say Bangladeshi news reports. The service is seeking an annual 10% increase in its budget over the next 10 years to achieve this, they add.

Air force officials decline to comment, but industry sources say the service has been keen to upgrade its capabilities after several years of neglect. Around 70% of the air force's aircraft have been in service for more than 20 years, while only 18% were inducted in the last 10 years, says the report. "The air force is proceeding with the dream to build a digital air force," the service is quoted as saying in the report. This will help it to "prepare, operate and maintain an air force capable of projecting air power in order to uphold and promote our national interest".

Initially, it plans to set up facilities to upgrade its Chengdu F-7 fighters and various Russian-made helicopters. By 2021, it hopes to begin replacing the older aircraft, says the report. These include its Nanchang A-5, Shenyang FT-6 and F-7 fighters. It also hopes to introduce airborne early warning capability into the air force. Budget allocations for the air force have been falling, according to the reports. While the service received 20.9% of the total defence budget in the 2005-6 financial year, this went down to 15.11% in 2008-9, they add. Most of the budgetary allocation is spent on maintenance, salaries, supplies and instalments for past purchases. As a result, only 4-6% is allocated for new purchases. Industry sources say that Chinese and Russian government officials have been in Bangladesh in the past few years offering new aircraft and credit facilities.

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