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SLAF played pivotal role in combating LTTE terrorists

Surveillance aircraft

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 operations.

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”, says Hendavitharana.

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 lines (FDL).

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 Zlín Z 143 of the LTTE air wing when it attempted to attack a military base in Vavuniya

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 Wickramarathna.

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 troops.

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 April, 1993

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 years.

The squadron with the use of it’s helicopters has been transporting troops and supplies, operating from almost every airfield in the country.

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 immediately.

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 troop FDL’s.

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 g’s.

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 old conflict.

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.

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