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Wednesday, 3 March 2011

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We received correct leadership to win war

The Sri Lanka Air Force is celebrating its 60th anniversary today. Among the celebrations will be, a mega exhibition organized for the public. Following is an interview given to the Daily News by Chief of Defence Staff and former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonatilake

Q: The Sri Lanka Air Force is celebrating its 60th anniversary. What is the importance of it for the SLAF?

A: The 60th anniversary is a very significant juncture for us. It is because we initiated the Sri Lanka Air Force 60 years ago with a very small crew and a minimum number of equipment. The SLAF has grown to the present standard. We made a tremendous contribution in the joint operation against the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world and defeat it.


Chief of Defence Staff and former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonatilake

The SLAF was initially established for ceremonial purposes and we never envisaged having to face such a serious internal problem.

Then the SLAF fastened its seat belts to face the situation. During 1986, 1987 period we fixed guns to small helicopters and used Bell 212 helicopters. Gradually we shifted to MI 24s and later in the 1990s we could boast of having jets. By now we are a very well established Air Force with 10 squadrons including 2 UAV squadrons. We also have four attack squadrons as well.

We also went forward with the technology. We made use of UAVs to get information about terrorists during the humanitarian operation and bring live pictures before the decision makers including Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, thus making their business easy.

In addition Air Force engineers were doing experiments to provide pictures of the UAVs to the pilots in the jets while they were attacking the enemy targets making their operation very easy. While the researches were successfully being completed that operation ended after the terrorists were defeated.

Q: How does the SLAF plan to celebrate its Jubilee?

A: We have specially organized an exhibition. It will provide a detailed picture about the developments of the SLAF from the very beginning. The oldest aircraft of the SLAF, the Tiger Moth will also be on display. All these planes are to be flown during the exhibition. Most of the aircraft in the exhibition could be closely viewed. I think arrangements have been made for the public to board several of these aircraft.

This exhibition is specially meant for school students. They are very enthusiastic on matters related to aviation. The exhibition will be open to the public for around eight days but could be extended on public demand.

There will also be aerobatic displays by the SLAF as well as Indian Air Force and parachute jumps to amuse the spectators as well. A carnival will also be held in parallel to the exhibition.

Q: How does the SLAF feel about its service to the country over the past six decades?

A: The SLAF played a significant role specially during the operation to eliminate LTTE terrorism that lasted for 30 years. The three services made a remarkable contribution to wipe out terrorism. The Sri Lanka Army no doubt made the biggest contribution.

The Sri Lanka Air Force has rendered an invaluable service in the elimination of terrorism. We operate in the air and we have no barriers there. We had the ability of going beyond the Forward Defence Lines and taking on the enemy.

We worked as a team. Our Aircrew received a sound training for the work at hand. I told them we have to break the will and shatter the morale of the enemy. We have to break their ability to fight. We never thought that we could accomplish our target so soon. But we did just that.

We destroyed their fuel dumps. Certain fuel dumps contained two or three hundred thousand litres of fuel. This affected their capacity of mobility.

We also targeted their leadership so that they had to go under ground. We targeted their training stations and they had to continue their training at night.

They did not have any rest and the Sri Lanka Air Force kept on pounding them. For this we had dedicated pilots, jet squadron, helicopter squadron. They were so brave and went all out to attack the targets.

We also had to support the Army and Navy when they faced difficult situations. The Navy had to take the targets in the front line and it made the task of the Army easier. We also destroyed a lot of speedboats of the Sea Tigers. We did a remarkable job. I must say the technical staff, logistic staff rendered a remarkable service. The medical service was also notable.

So by nature humans are very willing to memorize their successful actions of the past and so are the servicemen of the SLAF. But the SLAF had undergone many difficulties during this period. So this is a fine opportunity for them to show the dedicated service they rendered to the nation. This will all be on display at the exhibition.

Q: No bomb blasts, no more terrorist activities, no brutal murders committed by the terrorists. How do you feel about it as the Air Force Commander who actively participated in bringing freedom for the country and what is the present situation?

A: I am really happy that we could end the terrorism. I still remember that I promised to help finish terrorism during my service. And I am happy that I was able to do so. When I joined the Air Force as a youth and we never could enjoy freedom. But today the youth have the opportunity to enjoy their life.

But we have to remember that we always had the potential to defeat terrorism and what we lacked was leadership. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa provided the forces the necessary leadership to win the war.

The media also played a pivotal role in directing the entire country towards a single goal to defeat terrorism. We must never forget our war heroes. The present situation is the LTTE cannot wage war again against Sri Lanka. But it is still functioning overseas. The LTTE tries to destroy the country's image abroad. We must counter their propaganda. The entire world should know this was an operation that was fought to liberate the Tamil community as well. They came running towards the Sri Lankan Forces getting out of the grip of the LTTE during final stage of the humanitarian operation. They never were afraid of the Sri Lankan Forces.

Q: Finally, your father was a commander of the SLAF, you are a Commander and your brother too was in the SLAF. How about the third generation.

A: Yes war is very costly. I lost my brother in the war. He was a pilot in the Air Force. The third generation, my son Rehan is training now to be a pilot in the Sri Lanka Air Force.

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