Monday, August 10, 2009

Bangladesh Air Force seeks to purchase fighter trainer aircraft and simulators for fighter planes and helicopters

Bangladesh Air Force seeks to urgently purchase one squadron of fighter trainer aircraft and simulators for fighter planes and helicopters, and set up overhauling plants for the existing F-7 fighter planes and MI series helicopters. It has prepared long-term plans for other major defence purchases by 2021 and beyond to modernise the force, discloses a report of the air force. It also seeks either 10 percent increase in budgetary allocation or special allocation for the next 10 years to achieve the target.

The report, which describes the problems the air force is facing and suggests ways to overcome them, was placed before the parliamentary standing committee on defence ministry on July 14 for discussion. The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the report. The plans include purchasing of air defence radars and surface-to-air missile systems to protect important establishments of the force, replacement of A-5, FT-5 and F-7 fighter planes and induction of aircraft for airborne early warning, a system used for directing fighters to targets and counter attacks.

The air force also seeks to turn Cox's Bazar into an advanced base to increase the force's operational capability, approval of an organogram of the Kurmitola base, increase in healthcare facility for the force members and proper steps regarding their salaries and allowances. The air force suggested that the purchases be completed in phases by 2021. After 2021, it wants to begin purchasing aircraft in phases to form three air defence squadrons. An air force squadron typically consists of three or four air units, with a total of 12 to 24 aircraft, depending on the type of aircraft and the air force.

In defence of the plans, the report says Bangladesh needs a five-layer strong air defence system to protect its airspace from enemy air attacks. The mission of Bangladesh Air Force is: "To prepare, operate and maintain an air force capable of projecting air power in order to uphold and promote our national interest", as drafted in light of the responsibilities and duties assigned by the government.

"The air force is proceeding with the dream to build a digital air force keeping consistency with the honourable prime minister's vision," the report says. It says the budgetary allocation for the air force has been decreased in the last two financial years. The allocation was increased to 20.90 percent of the total defence budget in FY 2005-06 from 18.56 percent in 2004-05. In FY 2006-07, the air force was given 20.97 percent of the total defence budget. But the allocation was decreased to 15.57 percent in FY 2007-08 and 15.11 percent in FY 2008-09.

In the report, the air force has demanded either 25 percent of the total defence budget or a special allocation in the next 10 years. Most of the budgetary allocation is spent for maintenance, salaries and allowances, supplies and services and instalments of previous purchases. Only 4-6 percent of it is spent for major purchases, the report says.

In defence of purchasing new equipment, the report says it is facing tremendous difficulties in playing due role with the aged aircraft. The force has over 160 planes--fighter, transport and training aircraft--and helicopters, of which 70 percent are aged over 20 years and 18 percent inducted in the last 10 years, says the report.

It says the air force has planned to set up overhauling plants for the existing F-7 fighter planes and MI helicopters. If two plants are set up in the country, two to three F-7 aircraft and three to four MI choppers could be overhauled each year and will not require sending abroad.

The air force has so far overhauled Bell helicopters 65 times and PT-6 planes 76 times at its own maintenance unit. In the last two years, five fighter aircraft were overhauled in the country with the help of foreign consultants, the report says.

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