Air Force: Sri Lanka's wings of hope
It was November 26, 2007. Two Fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force
were hovering the skies over Kilinochchi. Cadres of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam were gathering at a ground for a special
celebration. Though the LTTE had units on standby for a sudden attack
they were unaware of the two stealthy warriors in the skies right above
them. Reliable intelligence information received by the Sri Lanka Air
Force predicted that several LTTE leaders including Prabhakaran were to
attend the annual celebrations held at a ground in Kilinochchi towards
the east of the A9 road. They were also informed there would be a well
fortified underground bunker as well.
Though the area didn't seem to be heavily populated the pilots were
requested to swoop down to specifically aim at the target. The people
observed on the land were carrying weapons and they were in uniform. The
weather over Kilinochchi that day was quite unfavourable for a fighter
It was thickened with a cloud layer. After a thorough search one jet
dived in closer to the target and the LTTE started heavy resistance. Yet
the pilot managed to drop all four bombs and ascend. The bullets of the
anti-aircraft guns exploded in the air after reaching a certain distance
creating a scene of fire and smoke and the pilots got surrounded with
this though they tried to keep a safe distance. The second pilot dived
amidst the resistance to drop bombs on the target. Unfortunately only
one bomb was released. He ascended.
The pilot wanted to dive in for another chance to drop the other
bombs very well knowing the consequences of returning to the target when
the LTTE have fully identified these two aircraft. Yet with their
Commanding Officer's approval the second pilot swooped in while his
colleague waited in the air. Even in that second only the two bombs on
the right side were released leaving the two on the left intact. Amidst
the fire and the smoke in the sky the worst thing happened to the pilot
- even with full power from the engines the aircraft did not ascend. It
was just 900m above ground level and was an easy target for the enemy.
Fuel was in critical condition and an engine nozzle was problematic.
The pilot was unable to give full power as the craft started
vibrating. The then Director Operations, their Commanding Officer and
the respective senior officers were right behind the operation
continuously directing the two pilots, guiding them during this entire
mission. Slowly and steadily the two pilots reached Katunayake taking
double the time they usually take. This was just a mere description of a
day of a fighter pilot of the Sri Lanka Air Force.
For the hardcore fighters of the Sri Lanka Air Force a failed
mission's ultimate consequence means nothing but death. Every mission
was equally daring for them. Their operations were atypical. The outside
world gets to know only the result - the damage to the enemy, for these
hardcore fighters behind the scene and their stories of bravery hardly
come into the limelight.
What matters to them is a job well done. Enjoying the peaceful
country they saved. It's time for us to salute these true heroes for
bringing in peace over their blood, toil and tears.
Sixty years ago, no one would have ever thought the then Royal Ceylon
Air Force would ever be facing one of the world's most ruthless
terrorist organisation - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
By then (during the Eelam War IV) the Sri Lanka Air Force was one of
the most active of the world's Air Forces.
The round the clock job carried maritime strikes, close air support,
CASEVAC, ground attacks, transport, air defence, surveillance.
Be it either a close air support, dropping bombs on targets causing
maximum attrition to the enemy or evacuating injured Army personnel,
obviously they were clear targets of the enemy.
During 2002-05 period the great deal of training carried out by the
SLAF to master their equipment was a major contributor to their success.
This involved more recce work with UAVs and Beechcraft 200s .
On November 2, 2007 it was a unique SLAF attack that resulted in a
dramatic turning point in Eelam War IV. A Kfir and a MiG-27 aimed at a
prime target of the LTTE, its Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilselvan.
This was a severe blow to the LTTE which became a turning point in their
downfall. This crucial attack made history in the two fighter jet
squadrons. The Kfir C7s that were purchased in 2000/2001 had better
Weapons Delivery Navigation System which supported more accurate
Among the number of daring flights of the fighter aircraft the F7s
created another turning point in war history by destroying a LTTE
airfraft over Iranapalai in the North of Pudukudduyirippu on March 26,
2007. They had to fly like LTTE aircraft in pitch dark and as low as 500
metres above the ground.
It needed great expertise and fortunately the Air Force had pilots of
The F7, on many occasions supported the Army as well as the Navy
during their operations.
Penetrating enemy lines, hitting by 320, 80mm rockets by a formation
of four helicopters the MI 24s caused utter devastation to the enemy and
there were no doubts about the results. Yet for precise targeting they
need to fly low thus making them an easy target. Everyday in the final
battle the MI24s carried direct attacks in all the frontlines breaking
positions of the entire enemy line.
Though the LTTE were able to temporarily dominate the ground the air
space was always ours. Bell 212s accompanied by the MI24 helicopters
carried risky evacuation missions (CASEVAC) when the Army troops got
trapped inside enemy terrain.
This is the squadron which was involved in evacuating a Sri Lanka
Army Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol at any given time
of need. For many months the Bell 212s were flying more hours than any
other unit due primarily to their CASEVAC role, which led to them
evacuating injured soldiers and civilians that were caught up in the
battles. The Zlin143s owned by the LTTE terrorists faced their fate when
confronted by a F7 and later by the attacks of the Air Defence System of
Two Zlin143s were shot down by air gunners positioned at Katunayake
and SLAF headquarters Colombo on February 20, 2008. Both pilots were
killed. This was believed to be the last plane LTTE was able to smuggle
in to Sri Lanka.
Exceeding 5000 flying hours and lifting and transporting more than 71
tons of cargo and over 6,000 injured soldiers the MI 17s helicopters
have done an outstanding job in their usual silent manner. Troop
movements, casualty transportation and moving Army's Air Mobile brigades
increased immensely during the recent operations and meeting the demand
Their first mission in the Vanni Operation would give enough and more
evidence of the gravity of their responsibilities.
In it the squadron had to move 500 officers and soldiers of the
Army's Air Mobile Brigade using six MI 17s where one could only carry 30
fully equipped personnel. Professionalism of pilots along with the
skillful technicians they performed their duties avoiding enemy threats.
The last but not the least giants of the Air Force fleet - the C130s
and AN32s - carried the heaviest loads of war. From people to soldiers
and vegetable to arms and ammunition they were the bloodline when the
ground routes were blocked, destroyed and shut down by the terrorists.
Flying a transport aircraft in Sri Lanka was a high-risk business.
Facing the threats of the Surface to Air Missiles the giants roared the
skies putting their lives second to service.
The SLAF had to ensure that civilians were not in their scene and
avoid hospitals or any religious buildings while making sure that troops
were not in their target area.
Having to pick through all these is like eating with chopsticks. Yet,
the great warriors of the Sri Lanka Air Force were ready to face any
enemy, challenge or threat to save their Motherland; they were not ready
to compromise the country's sovereignty.
Today the SLAF faces a greater challenge as protecting Sri Lankan
waters is their duty today. They are the saviours of Sri Lankans at any
disastrous situation. During the recent flash floods in the Eastern
Province. Bell 212 helicopters rescued 54 persons trapped in the
devastating flash floods from Batticaloa and Ampara in two days in early
The chopper carried out three shuttles for the rescue mission where
32 individuals from Tampitiya, 14 from Bogamuyaya, seven from Rambakan
Oya and one from Valaichenai were flown away for safety from the flood
waters. The SLAF carried relief aid to victims of flash floods in the
Eastern province by airlifting consignments of dry rations using MI-17
The operations which began on January 11 from SLAF China Bay,
airlifted 5200 kilograms of dry rations including dhal, sugar, rice,
milk powder in a Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopter bound for Somawathiya area
in the Polonnaruwa District.
This was followed by another consignment carrying 9,700 kilograms of
essential goods sent by a MI-17 from SLAF Base Hingurakgoda to the same
location. Both consignments were dropped at the school grounds of
Somawathi Devi Vidyalaya.
Later another consignment of wheat flour weighing 2,800 kilograms was
airlifted to Somawathiya from Hingurakgoda. Within a week the MI-17s of
the Air Force airlifted 30,000 kilograms of dry rations and essential
items to Batticaloa, Sampur, Somawathiya, Ella, Kantale, Serunuwara and
Vakarai areas. Surely their wings will protect the country and its
people for ever.