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Sunday, 7 June 2009





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Ruling the sky

Every mission was equally daring for them. 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. They, great warriors of the Sri Lanka Air Force are ready to face any enemy, challenge or threat to save their motherland; they are not ready to compromise the sovereignty of the country and for ever their wings will protect the country and its people.

Their operations were atypical. The outside world gets to know only the result - the damage to the enemy. The hardcore fighters behind the scene and their stories of bravery hardly come into the limelight. What matters for them is a job well done.

Their duty is to break the LTTE strength and power directly facing them penetrating into the enemy terrains. There if the mission fails, ultimate consequence would be nothing else but death as there will be no escape paths if the aircraft or the pilot gets hit by enemy attacks.


The stealthy warrior has many such stories to relate.

One of the daring missions of this fighter squadron was the attempt to kill LTTE leader Prabhakaran on November 26, 2007. 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. Two most experienced MiG pilots were given the orders by their Commander Group Captain Sajeewa Hendawitharana under the command from the Director Operations to deal with a senior LTTE leader who was the crucial target. The two MiG 27s started off from Katunayake.

Though the area didn't look heavily populated the pilots were asked to scoop down to specifically aim at the target as people were seen moving in and around the area. "The weather over Kilinochchi that day was quite unfavourable for a pilot. It was with a thick cloud layer," one pilot said.

After a thorough search the first MiG 27 dived in closer to the target and no sooner the LTTE started giving heavy resistance. Yet the pilot managed to drop all four bombs and ascend. "With the heavy firing from anti aircraft guns the entire sky was covered in thick smoke," the pilot explained. The bullets of the Anti Air Craft guns explode in the air after reaching a certain distance creating a scene of fire and smoke and the pilots get surrounded with this though they try to keep a safe distance. The second pilot dived amidst the resistance to drop bombs on the target unfortunately only one bomb was released. Unable to understand the sudden failure he ascends.

Knowing the consequences of returning to the target when the LTTE have fully identified these two aircraft, he wanted to return to drop other threebombs. Until his Commanding Officer gave permission he kept on requesting as by then it was obvious their real target was present and understanding the gravity of the situation and trusting on his two pilots the CO says `ok'. Second pilot dives in to drop bombs but two did not get released. The two bombs on the right side were released leaving the two on the left intact. The aircraft was with excess load. And on top of it his craft cannot be taken out. "I tried giving full power yet she doesn't ascend," he said. He was just 900m above the ground level and could have been an easy catch for the LTTE. "I just wanted to save her (the aircraft) and get out of the chaos so I turned towards the Kilali lagoon," he said. His senior colleague on the other MiG, stayed right behind him instructing him and the CO was in continuous contact. Fuel was in critical condition and an engine nozzle has become problematic. He was unable to give full power as the craft starts vibrating. Slow and steadily the two pilots reached Katunayake. "I had never gone through such failure and landing in the normal manner was not possible," he said. Landing the MiG 27 safely in this arduous condition this pilot made history in the SLAF.

Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetilake, Director Operations A MiG 27 squadron CO and the respective senior officers were right behind the two pilots directing them, guiding them during this entire mission. On landing the technical crew found in the post flight inspection done immediately, a large hole on the right exhaust nozzle cone - a gun shot. "We wanted to take that risk since we desperately wanted to destroy the LTTE leadership," he said. "She managed to bring me to safety though she was injured and after she recovered we started our duties and we continue to do so," he added with such affection to the aircraft he is flying.

"Intense battles occurred during the time when the Sri Lanka Army was regaining Kilinochchi, Pooneryn and most recently Pudukuduirrippu," Flight Lieutenant Roshan Perera said explaining about his MiG27 squadron. "If the weather is not favourable keeping the flight formation, visibility etc becomes difficult. Even under such conditions we conduct our missions since winning the battle is the topmost priority," he said.

MI 24

The battle tank of the Air Force, MI 24 helicopter squadron, played a crucial role in breaking enemy lines and supporting the rapidly advancing ground troops. "Providing close air support for the advancing troops of the Army was our main duty," Wing Commander Sampath Thuiyakontha the Commanding Officer of the MI 24 helicopter squadron said explaining the entire mission they carried out in the Wanni humanitarian Operation. "Proper coordination is crucial in our missions simply because we reach the closest point in the enemy line and a single mistake can create havoc," he added. As he said there were no record of a single day they returned without dozens of bullet holes on the aircraft.

"Our attacks are more effective. We launch 80mm rockets directly on to the enemy whereas if it is launched from the ground it hits the enemy indirectly. In addition we have the 30mm gatteline gun fixed in the front and 23 mm guns as anti personnel guns to directly shoot at the enemy," he added.

Just imagine LTTE lines being hit by 320, 80mm rockets by a formation of four MI 24 helicopters. It is an utter devastation to the enemy and there is no doubt about it.

"Every time it is an intense battle," he said, "We cross the enemy line and penetrate into their area and when flying low the helicopter is slow moving and we can be an easy target." There strength is the massive fire power and launching capability within a short period of time terrorizing the enemy.

"We carried attacks in all the frontlines during a day and was able to break positions of the entire enemy line. And everyday, until they were extremely cornered we continued hitting them severely," he added.

Commenting on the technical assistance Wing Commander Thuiyakontha explained, the swift actions of the technical staff with Officer Commanding (Maintenance) Squadron Leader Chandana Liyanage, was the real strength of the outstanding performance by the MI 24 squadron.

Bell 212

Be it in the middle of the night or during a stormy weather the Bell 212 squadron keep themselves ready for casualty or troop evacuations or for transportation of troops. "When the soldiers are injured and they needed to be brought for advanced medical care immediately we just can't delay. Even seconds may matter," the second in command of the Bell 212 squadron Dhammika said.

Bell 212s are accompanied by the MI24 helicopters during the evacuation missions when the Army troops get trapped inside enemy terrain. This is the squadron which was involved in evacuating a Sri Lanka Army Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol from Oddusudan general area where Major Lalith Jayasinghe was killed during their mission. At that time the entire area was full of LTTE cadres.

A memorable incident for the squadron is definitely their first mission carried out on November 22 in 2001 that was led by Captain Sudam Kaluarachchi to evacuate a seriously injured Sri Lanka Army Commando team on a heavy rainy day. Captain Kaluarachchi, a brave officer who carried many such missions suffered a heart stroke, giving a shock to the entire squadron and since it paralyzed him he is unfortunately no more with the squadron. "He was a great pilot and a brave officer. He made the squadron proud," Dhammika added.


Purchased first in 1991 from China the F7 squadron started its mission mainly as an air interceptor with the F7 BS type of aircraft. Still this had the capacity of ground attacks. The turning point for the squadron was the first LTTE air attack on March 26, 2007. The Air Force was equipped with the F7 GS - the type with air to air interceptor capabilities. Their basic duty was to destroy enemy aircraft. "This was a unique situation for our Air Force since nowhere in the world any other Air Force was facing this type of enemy threat from air," the Commanding Officer said. Their first success was destroying LTTE aircraft over Iranapalai. "We have to fly like them in pitch dark and at low levels even at 500 metres from the ground. It needed great expertise and fortunately we had pilots of that capacity," he added.

"The F7 has the capability to scan, detect an unidentified aircraft and to guide it to the nearest air field if it responds positively. If it does not obey and moves towards a specific target we can launch the attack," he added.

The F7, on many occasions have supported the Army as well as the Navy during their operations.

MI 17

Exceeding 5000 flying hours and lifting and transporting more than 71 tons of cargo and over 6000 injured soldiers the MI 17 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 it was our duty to meet the demand. It was crucial," the Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Samantha Petiarambage explained.

To visualize the gravity of their responsibility their first mission in this Wanni operation would be adequate. In it the squadron had to move 500 officers and soldiers of the Army's Air Mobile Brigade using six MI 17 helicopters where one could only carry 30 fully equipped personnel.

"Professionalism of our pilots, including the capabilities of the technicians thus we were able to perform our duties throughout the day without facing any threats from the enemy," he added.

Technical staff

"For the pilot to take off, carryout his mission and return safely the technicians work around the clock to keep the engines running," Squadron Leader Sarada Mawitigama, Officer Commanding (Maintenance) of the MiG27 squadron said.

Adhering to the norms and conditions of maintaining and servicing an aircraft, which are of the international level, meeting the demand from the need of the hour is no easy task. "At times to repair a damaged aircraft we work 3-4 days continuously to bring the aircraft back to duty," he said.

"It is not just the technical knowledge that matters to our SLAF technical crews. We need high versatility and innovative thinking to use the best out of the Aircraft we have," Sq. Ldr. Mawitigama added. The technical staff keeps the aircraft ready for missions. It needs continuous work from these people as during tight operations the Air Force will only get emergency calls where the pilot has to move in a few minutes and the time left for the technicians is counted in seconds.

Proper guidance

With the vision of a great leader the Air Force grew in leaps and bounds. It is the innovative and correct thinking of the Commander of the Air Force Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetilake that made the SLAF run in this momentum.

Speaking to the average airmen up to the high ranked officer this is obvious. They simply follow their leader. And for them protecting the motherland is their priority forever.


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