Government officials affiliated with the negotiations regarding the purchase of armaments from European countries say Bangladesh has taken the initiative of modernising its armed forces through the ‘Forces Goal - 2030’ programme. As a result, the major powers of the European Union have become interested in selling defence equipment, including aircraft, to Bangladesh.
Referring to various official visits of Bangladesh in the last two years, the diplomats say Europe’s interest in enhancing defence cooperation and sale of armaments is growing. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Rome at the invitation of Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte in February 2020. At the time, Italy was quite keen to sign a defence agreement with Bangladesh. Italy wanted to sell the fighter jet ‘Eurofighter’ to Bangladesh, manufactured under joint venture of four countries. Apart from that, Italy also wanted to sell the Leonardo fighter jet, which was manufactured by Italy itself. However, the defence agreement was not signed between the two countries at the time.
Later in March that year, defence minister of France, Florence Parly came to Dhaka on a two-day visit. She stressed the sale of Dassault Rafale during her meeting with the prime minister and foreign minister at the time.
At the moment, apart from France and Italy, Germany and Spain also are in negotiations with Bangladesh regarding the supply of various armaments including fighter jets, helicopters, small submarines, air defence systems and minesweepers.
As of now, Bangladesh is heavily dependent on China in terms of arms procurement. Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding the interest of European nations in supplying weapons to Bangladesh, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “Bangladesh wants to bring diversity to its the arms procurement. The European countries are aware we have gained that capability. So they are showing interest in selling arms to us.”
Last month in Berlin, the German foreign secretary raised the issue of selling arms to Bangladesh as well.
Notably, on 30 may this year, an agreement was signed to purchase 24 training aircrafts in presence of the air force chief and German ambassador. These aircraft are manufactured by Germany’s Grob Aircraft SE.
The competition between 'Dassault Rafale' and 'Eurofighter Typhoon'
As part of the modernising the Bangladesh Armed Forces, efforts are being made to upgrade the Air Force's fleet of fighter jets. The United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy have been discussing the issue with Bangladesh for several years.
France with its Dassault Rafale is competing with Eurofighter Typhoons manufactured in the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. In a strategic dialogue between the two countries in April, 2019, the UK raised this issue as part of defence cooperation. The UK said it had a keen interest in selling multi-purpose fighter jets.
The list goes on
Government officials, who have been involved in purchasing arms from European countries for several years, told this correspondent that discussions are ongoing regarding the purchase of fighter jets, training air crafts as well as other defence equipment.
Italy, for example, is interested in selling air defence systems, helicopters and minesweepers, in addition to the proposal regarding the sale of Eurofighter typhoons. Spain has begun talks on selling air defence systems. The Netherlands has expressed interest in selling various weapons to the navy, including ships.
Major General (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, told Prothom Alo that Bangladesh has good relations with four European nations – France, Germany, Italy and Spain. All of these countries want the benefits of financial diplomacy. They want to take this opportunity as they have the capacity of manufacturing weapons. However, the question is whether we have the financial capacity to purchase such a huge quantity of weapons.
Regarding defence cooperation between France and Bangladesh, the security expert said a major step has been taken by signing a defence cooperation agreement with France for the first time. This seems to indicate that France is paying importance to increasing its defence capacity and sales.
*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu