SLAF played pivotal role in combating LTTE terrorists
During the nearly three decades old separatist conflict, Sri Lanka
Air Force (SLAF) has played a pivotal role in combating LTTE terrorists.
Specially during the latter stages(so-called Ealam war 1V), the SLAF
has been instrumental in bringing down the Tigers will to fight, with
precision targets on key LTTE locations and providing close logistic and
offensive support for ground and naval operations.
Equipped with the latest technological innovations and coupled with a
dedicated & skilled staff, the SLAF has been able to effectively provide
the ground and naval operations that much needed support from the above.
As MIG 27 fighter jets zeroed in on strategic LTTE targets flying
just 30 meters above ground and at a speed of 1000 kmph, terrified LTTE
air gunners were heard saying(due to interception of Tiger radio
communications) it is too fast for us.
As LTTE supremo V. Prabhakaran ran from one hideout to another and
leaders such as Thamilselvan were eliminated with precision attacks, the
stakes of the SLAF which had a humble beginning, primarily engaging in
immigration patrol in 1971 shot to the skies as one of the topmost Air
combative and ground support outfits in the region.
At a time the LTTE has been vanquished militarily, ending the nearly
three decades of bloodshed. Here ‘Daily News’ takes a close look at the
role played by some SLAF squadrons in operations conducted during the
recent ‘humanitarian mission’.
No:12 Fighter Squadron, established in year 2000 and later being
equipped with MIG 27’s in 2007, currently operates in both ground attack
and close air support role. According to Group Captain Sajeewa
Hendawitharana, the squadron has 7 single seat MIG 27 fighter jets and
one MIG 23, twin seat trainer aircraft.
According to Hendawitharana one of the main advantages of MIG 27 is
that it does not have external fuel tanks and thus has the capability of
carrying up to 4000 kg’s (maximum limit) of bombs during combat
Also the jet has a sophisticated auto pilot system which helps it to
fly at very low altitudes at a high speed. The MIG-27 could fly just 20
metres above ground at a speed of 1000 kmph. This and the night sorties
which the MIG 27’s did had taken the enemy unawares causing them massive
damage both to it’s manpower and material.
“We devised a very accurate night-fighting capability and the first
night strikes were done by the unit inflicting heavy casualties to the
enemy at an unexpected hour,” says Hendavitharana.
According to Hendavitharana the attack on the hideout of LTTE
political wing leader Thamil Selvan, which was also supported by Kfir’s
was one of the major achievements.
“With only six fully fledged Pilots we carried out a large number of
offensive attacks during operations. In addition we also provided close
support to ground and naval troops. During the period we were hit three
times but on all occasions we were able to land in Katunayake safely”,
Also according to him the MIG-27’s during the operations to smash
heavily fortified Muhumalai defences engaged in a strategic move by
encircling the Jaffna peninsula flying very low to smash enemy defences
in support of ground troops, which finally paved way for the fall of
long standing Tiger defences in the area. Also another major operation
was the attack on LTTE earth bunds in Chundikulam when the Army was
stuck their for a while due to heavy enemy resistance.
The No.10 fighter squadron, established on January, 1996 and
comprising Kfir jets, was tasked with providing offensive support for
ground and maritime operations, air surveillance and interception.
According to the unit head Wing Commander Shehan Fernando the Kfir,
is a multi-role aircraft as it not only has air to ground attack
capability but also possesses air to air attack capability.
The trademark of the squadron is it’s capability in taking high value
enemy targets with pin point accuracy.
According to Fernando the squadron also takes credit for taking out
several strategic LTTE targets including LTTE naval crafts, engaging
them with 100 per cent accuracy even close to Army’s forward defence
Many of these close air support missions numbering roughly 1375 has
had devastating effects on the enemy due to the accuracy of the Kfir.
The bombing of the Tiger base of Bhanu, in Karadiyanaru, and the
bombing of the Swarnam Base, north of Vakkarai and numerous hideouts of
Prabhakaran has been credited to this unit.
Also on November 2, 2007, a Kfir took part in the mission to bomb the
hideout of LTTE political wing leader S. P Thamilchelvam, causing the
death of not only him but several other LTTE leaders as well.
. In the latter stages, the Kfirs also engaged in night attacks
giving the enemy no respite and also took part in destroying LTTE earth
bunts, providing openings for ground troops to advance.
The No: 05 squadron was formed in 1991. Later F-7G’s were acquired to
be used as interceptors with the squadron taking on the air defence
role. October 2008 the SLAF claimed it first air-to-air kill, when it
reported that one of the squadron’s F-7G interceptors shot down a ZlÃn
Z 143 of the LTTE air wing when it attempted to attack a military base
According to Wing Commander Sampath Wickramarathna F-7 travels at
twice the speed of sound, and is the only SLAF jet equipped with air
interception radar and air-to-air missiles.
“Initially we did a lot of air to ground attacks. But with the
acquisition of Kfir’s our work load was reduced. Later F-7’s were used
as trainer aircrafts mainly. But with the acquisition of F-7 GS(first
fully equipped interceptor) the role changed again,” says
According to him the squadron played a big role in the eastern
liberation engaging in air to ground attacks. But in the northern front
it’s main duty was to provide an interceptor role with the emergence of
the existence of several LTTE air crafts.
The No: 07 squadron consisting of Bell-212 helicopters too have been
rending yeomen service during the battle against the LTTE as a
transporter /rescue operator. According to Wing Commander Wasantha
Jayawardhena who heads the unit, the helicopters under his command has
being providing utility support to ground and naval troops.
Also the Bell-212 has being used in combat operations mainly in the
initial stages with it’s side guns providing close support to ground
According to Jayawardhana his unit comprising six helicopters has
engaged in thousands of rescue\evacuation operations in addition to
providing logistic supplies to ground troops.
The NO : 06 squadron was formed on March 15, 1993 at SLAF, Katunayake.
With the arrival of Mi-17s, it was later moved to SLAF Vavuniya in
According to Squadron Leader P A V Samantha the Mi-17 is another
helicopter that played a key role in transporting casualties, VIP’s,
troops and supplies.
The Mi-17 played a very active role during the latter part of the
conflict. According to Samantha, during recent operations, the MI 17 has
transported 500 tonnes of material Cargo and 36000 personnel, which
includes around 6000 casualties.
Also the helicopters has been used to carry Army personnel from one
place to another during combat operations.
No:8 “Light Transport” Squadron currently operates the Harbin Y-12
from SLAF Ratmalana. Its roles include light transport, reconnaissance
and pilot training for twin engine aircrafts.
According to Wing Commander P B Ekanayake the Y-12 fleet of No. 8
SLAF squadron, was another important player during the long drawn out
conflict, which has been lending valuable support during the last 26
The squadron with the use of it’s helicopters has been transporting
troops and supplies, operating from almost every airfield in the
Also the helicopter has been used to drop food for both troops and
civilians during combat operations.
In 1995, when LTTE destroyed an SLAF aircraft, the Y-12 aircraft
carried food supplies and military hardware for troops in Jaffna
No : 9 “Attack Helicopter” Squadron currently operates the air
force’s fleet of Attack Helicopters consisting of Mi-24s & Mi-35s from
SLAF Hingurakgoda base. According to unit head, Wing Commander Sampath
Thuiyakontha, the squadrons specialty is providing close air support to
ground troops by engaging the enemy in the immediate vicinity of ground
The MI -24 also has massive destructive capabilities as it could
carry 80 X 80 mm rockets at one given time along with it’s heavy calibre
guns. Without the cargo of rockets it could carry bombs up to 1000 k
According to Thuiyakontha, his squadron has been providing close air
support to both ground and naval troops in addition to providing air
cover to escort other helicopters on rescue missions.
Also the Squadron has played a pivotal role supporting almost all
ground operations, inflicting heavy casualties to the enemy. During
offensives to take the rice bawl in Mannar, battle to take the giant
tank area and attack on LTTE’s well fortified Micheal Base the squadron
has lent valuable support to ground troops.
The squadron also has engaged in more than 400 operations and has
come under enemy attack on 35 occasions. At times some crafts has even
landed in enemy territory due to damages received. But according to
Thuiyakontha they had not lost a single craft during the recently
concluded ‘humanitarian operation’.
The No: 2 “Heavy Transport” Squadron currently operates the C-130
Hercules and Antonov 32 from SLAF Ratmalana.
The Squadron led by Wing Commander V C Senarathna too has given
valuable support in helping ground troops.
The unit has mainly engaged in transportation of men and material to
the battle field during the entire duration of the nearly three decade
Also according to all Squadron leaders one cannot forget the valuable
support rendered by other sections of the Air force such as engineers,
mechanics, ground troops etc. in taking Sri Lanka’s wings in the skies,
to such great heights.