Bangladesh Air Force’s choice for light combat aircraft

Bangladesh Air Force’s choice for light combat aircraft

The Bangladesh Air Force has a standing requirement for 6 air defence squadrons which will make up the backbone of the inventory. The aircraft will be deployed across bases in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong, Barisal and Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh Air Force has received a number of offers from the US, China, Sweden and Russia to fulfil its requirements. The air force ideally sought a single engine fighter aircraft to replace the long serving F-7 series, of which the MB variant requires replacement forthwith. The rest of the two squadrons comprising of F-7BG and F-7BG1 will be replaced by 2032.

Any potential supplier will also have the opportunity to supply a maintenance and overhauling facility to the Bangabandhu Aeronautical Centre (BAC) at Dhaka or Lalmonirhat.

The options:

F-16: The most proven combat aircraft in the line-up. In service with dozens of air force’s around the world. While base design is ageing newer forms still offer formidable capabilities for countries with limited defence budgets but demanding air power roles.

Maintenance costs are low compared to other Western fighter aircraft. However the main problems relate to American policy of the day. If the aircraft is not provided with required spared and munitions it’s a sitting duck. For a backbone fighter such high risks cannot be something acceptable to air force authorities or national policy makers.

The F-16 remains a symbol of American quality and firepower.

J-10: The aircraft has not been exported however it’s in wider service with the PLAAF. As a fighter it’s engine and avionics concerned BAF’s technical evaluation team. China is working tirelessly to fix known technical issues. Because India and Myanmar will not get hold of the J-10 it still represents an attractive option for the Bangladesh Air Force with possible transfer of technology for various components including MRO plant in the future. The only other problem is that it might not be possible for the J-10 to be integrated with the Western AEW&CS aircraft which Bangladesh Air Force intends to introduce so an alternative Chinese model will also have to be procured for such purpose.

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The J-10 is China’s backbone fighter with strong line up of armaments.

Jas-39: The most economical of the Western fighter aircraft. Highly capable though little pricey the Jas-39E could be a formidable replacement for the F-7 series. The short take-off and landing will allow the aircraft to operate from any airfield in Bangladesh. It has been exported to a number of countries with smaller air forces but has proved to be effective enough to warrant further purchases. The operating costs are cheaper than F-16 and Bangladesh would not have to sign any extra defence agreements with Sweden to operate these aircraft. Provided Saab maintains steady supply of spares and munitions the Jas-39 can be useful in countering neighbouring air forces in air defence role and limited maritime strike missions. It will be capable of communicating with the command and control network of the air force.

The Jas-39E is is by far the most economical of all Western fighter planes.

MiG-35: It’s a refined and enlarged MiG-29 with enhanced engine, sensors package and better economy. Even though it’s a twin engine fighter it is still economical. Like the J-10 a new AEW&CS aircraft will be required from Russia to ensure the aircraft’s full potential can be utilised. A potential transfer of technology will be useful if the Bangladesh Air Force were to purchase the aircraft. However the downside if the MiG is that both India and Myanmar are possibly negotiating its purchase. Procuring such an aircraft will not provide the Bangladesh Air Force with any element of surprise, which is why it might be equally as poisonous as the F-16 for the Bangladesh Air Force no matter how good of a deal Russia outlines in its sales pitch.

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The MiG-35 is equipped with some 5th generation technologies and new armaments.
Which light air defence fighter aircraft should the Bangladesh Air Force purchase?
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