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Sri Lanka Air Force - History

The Royal Ceylon Air Force was born on 2nd March 1951. The founding of the Royal Ceylon Air Force began with the presentation of 41 of 49; Bill No. 41 of 1949, which was presented to Ceylon's House of Representatives, by Mr R.G.Senanayake, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence and External Affairs on 9th August 1949. The Bill was read in the House for the second time on 30th August 1949. The Bill provided for a Regular Air Force, a Regular Air Force Reserve, a Volunteer Air Force and a Volunteer Air Force Reserve. The RCyAF thus became the youngest of the Defence Services of Ceylon. The Governor-General, Lord Soulbury, ratified the Bill on 3rd October 1949 and the legislative work was at last, complete. The Air Force Act was born.

The British Government seconded Group Captain Graham Clerke Bladon to set up the RCyAF, and command it through its formative years. Gp Capt Bladon was Senior Air Staff Officer of the RAF's 62 Group, the Reserve Command covering the whole of the South West of England. He had also been in charge of training auxiliary squadrons, volunteer reserves and the RAF cadets. In 1946, he was Commander of the RAF base in Singapore, and later, Staff Officer (Administration) at Air HQ Malaya. He was honoured with the Order of the British Empire in 1951, whilst serving in Ceylon.

At inception, the RCyAF owned no aircraft. Early recruits had to make do with PT and Drill routines, until the first four Chipmunks arrived, and later the Oxfords and Balliols as well. The RCyAF's first trainer, the Chipmunk was ordered in 1950 and the first batch of four aircraft arrived in Ceylon in October the same year. With the arrival of the Chipmunk, aircraft engineering activities could begin.The aircraft were brought in and assembled at Katunayake, under the guidance of RAF Engineers and were first flown in February 1951.

The next step was the setting up of a Board of Management, under the Chairmanship of the Commander. The Board comprised the Chief of Staff and Heads of Branches at Air Force Headquarters (the former Principal Staff Officers, who were designated as Directors) with the Director of Administration functioning as Secretary to the Board. The Board met fortnightly. In order to monitor the activities of independent formations, the Commander met the COs once in 3 months.

The Directors in those early days handled the areas of Logistics, Aeronautical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Administration, Medical Services, Civil Engineering and Operations; later Planning, Welfare, Training, General Engineering and a revised Directorate of Operations amalgamating ground and air ops, were added on.

Hardly three months into his command, Commander Mendis was summoned by telephone to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister, the Hon Sirimavo Bandaranaike announced the outbreak of a Southern-led insurgency in the island. This was the first serious internal threat faced by Ceylon. The five Jet Provosts lying in storage at China Bay had the dust wiped off their windscreens, their Browning guns were rapidly fitted and harmonised, and the aircraft given a complete servicing and made ready for combat in a matter of three days. By the morning of 9th April 1971, the five Jet Provosts were flown to Katunayake, attacking a target on the way.

With the influx of aircraft and equipment to help the RCyAF deal with the insurgency, the Force was left with surplus men and machines surplus in the sense that the demands on the Force had greatly decreased as a result of the reduction in operational demands

Additions to the fleet in 1987 came in the form of four more Yunshuju-12s and two of the SLAFs first Y8 heavy transport aircraft, the Chinese version of the Russian Antonov AN12. The addition of the Y8 to the fleet also introduced the capabilities of air lifting more than 150 personnel in a single flight, while the Y-12 could land and take off, even on grass fields. The Y12s and the Y8s both joined the No. 2 Transport Squadron. On 1st January 1987, No. 4 Helicopter Squadron was renamed No. 4 Helicopter Wing and its first CO was Gp Capt Oliver Ranasinghe.Additions to the fleet in 1987 came in the form of four more Yunshuju - 12s and two of the SLAFs first Y8 heavy transport aircraft, the Chinese version of the Russian Antonov AN12.

The addition of the Y-8 to the fleet also introduced the capabilities of air lifting more than 150 personnel in a single flight, whilst the Y12 could land and take off, even on grass fields. The Y12s and the Y8s both joined the No. 2 Transport Squadron. On 1st January 1987, No. 4 Helicopter Squadron was renamed No. 4 Helicopter Wing and its first CO was Gp Capt Oliver Ranasinghe.

On 2nd April 1987, Anuradhapura too was raised to Base status; its first Base Commander was Gp Capt Oliver M. Ranasinghe. A Gunners Advanced Training School was set up in SLAF, Morawewa in the same year. On 3rd September 1987 a Women's Wing was formed and located in Colombo. The first CO was Air Cdre D.S.G. Vithana. The Women's Wing was set up to maintain and update all records pertaining to Lady Officers and Airwomen, prepare promotional schedules, annual assessments, issue identity cards, etc.

In 1988, the twin prongs of the SLAF s Operations, viz. Flying and Ground, were brought under one directorate. Hitherto Gp Capt Brendon Sosa headed Ground Operations/Training and Gp Capt Oliver Ranasinghe headed Flying Operations. Both functions were brought under the Directorate of Gp Capt Oliver Ranasinghe. Another key change occurred on 11th August 1988, when the No. 1 Flight Training Wing was relocated to SLAF, Anuradhapura.

The Wing came to that historic location with 14 aircraft and was commanded by Flt Lt S.N.H. Goonetilleke. On 2nd April 1989 Wg Cdr A.N.C.W. Jayasekera initiated the formation of the Electronic & Telecommunication Wing at SLAF Base, Ratmalana. On 19th December 1989, SLAF Unit, Ampara was established with three officers and forty-eight airmen.

In 1997 the SLAF flew over 20,000 hours, operationally for the first time ever, logging 21,895 hours in total and they did this despite losing nine manned aircraft. The toll was 2 - Y12s, 2 - Mi-24s, 1 - AN 32B, 1 - Pucara, 1 - Siai Marchetti SF 260 TP, 1 - Bell 212, and 1 - Kfir C2. The Air Force supported 14 operations throughout 1997, of these, Operation Jayasikuru launched in May was one of the most significant - by far the most arduous undertaking for the SLAF. This we may glean from the sheer number of missions flown by SLAF aircraft. The Kfir jets flew 232 missions whilst the Mi-24 Attack Helicopters flew 127 missions and the Pucaras 13. No 111 Sqn flew its Searcher Mark Two UAV's extensivly through out the "Humanitarian Operations" providing invaluable visual intelligence to both the decision makers and also those on the front lines.

Infrastructurally, Hingurakgoda was elevated to SLAF Base status the first Base Commander being Wg Cdr T.L.W. Dissanayake. The Aeronautical Engineering Wing began rewiring of Bell 212/412 helicopters in 1996. It also began to undertake the 1000 hour service on the 212 hitherto performed at Squadron level. In ground armament, a significant development was the 23 mm ZU23 anti-aircraft machine gun, which enhanced the SLAFs air defence capabilities. A new Coastal Surveillance Control Centre (CSCC) was established at Anuradhapura in March 1996 to co-ordinate coastal surveillance activities of the Navy and Air Force. This was co-ordinated by the SLAF, with representation from the Army, Navy and Police Infrastructural Support.

This episode had its beginnings in 1993, when the SLAF established their own Command Quality Assurance Inspectorate, at Ratmalana Base. Initially the Quality Assurance programmes were put into practice under the guidance of the Director of Aeronautical Engineering. In 1994, the Inspectorate was placed directly under the Commander of the Air Force. In 1996, the efforts made in maintaining the highest of standards paid off - the SLAF won Sri Lanka's National Quality Award for Excellence in the Large Scale Service Category.

SLAF was an integral part of Humanitarian Operations and played a key role by providing close air support by the MI-24 Helicopter gunships, the accurate target acquisition by the fighter jets and the casualty evacuation operations carried out in the midst of the battle by the SLAF helicopters. SLAF was also instrumental UAVs in providing real time situational awareness to the battlefield commanders. Destroying terrorist air capability with the use of the Air Defence System was also a notable achievement as the system has been established within a very short period of time.

On 12 March 2007, the Sri Lankan military launched a campaign in Thoppigala. Thoppigala, roughly between Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa, was home to a cluster of LTTE bases, which were among the last significant LTTE camps remaining in the east. Sri Lanka's air force used Kfir and MiG-27 aircraft to bomb identified, strategic LTTE targets in the area. The attacks were launched after terrorists were identified and found preparing for attacks on the security forces.

At approximately 12:45 am on 26 March 2007, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conducted their first known aerial attack on Sri Lankan military targets. The LTTE used two small fixed-wing aircraft to drop four bombs on Katunayake Air Force Base adjacent to Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport. The military-run Media Center for National Security reports that three airmen were killed and 16 wounded. There were no civilian casualties. Hangars holding GSL MiG-27 and Kfir aircraft were the likely target, but government sources report that no fighter planes were put out of commission and airport runways were unharmed.

Before daybreak on 21 Octoer 2007 the LTTE attacked the Anuradhapura air base with between 20-30 cadres armed with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms. Press reports indicate the LTTE fighters wore military uniforms and explosive suicide belts and were armed with T-56 rifles, AK-47s, Czech automatic pistols, light anti-tank weapons, RPGs and launchers, light machine guns, Mark 82 Chinese hand grenades, and improvised explosive devices. The two bombs dropped by the LTTE Zlin Z-143 aircraft missed their targets and caused little or no damage.

The SLAF reports between 10 and 20 LTTE cadres were killed. Thirty to 40 LTTE cadres, who are reported to have entered the base in military uniforms, are believed to have participated in the ground attack. They were able to travel more than a kilometer across the base to the hangar area without being detected. According to local press, the LTTE cadres carried walkie-talkies, satellite phones, and mobile phones with them and were able to communicate with their controllers in the Vanni up until the last couple of cadres were reportedly killed at around 9 AM.

Thirteen SLAF personnel (four officers and nine enlisted men) were killed and as many as 25 SLAF personnel were injured in the attack. Reports of damage from the attack were varied. The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) reported that 8 aircraft were destroyed including one MI-24 helicopter gunship, three PT-6 trainer aircraft, one K-8 jet trainer, one Beechcraft, one MI-17 helicopter, and a Bell 212 helicopter that crashed. Sunday Times defense journalist Iqbal Athas added two UAVs to that list and one additional PT-6 trainer. Other sources report that as many as 3 UAVs may have been destroyed and 1 damaged. One additional MI-17 helicopter and another MI-24 helicopter may also have been damaged. The SLAF still had 6 undamaged MI-24 helicopter gunships. There were no reports of damage to the SLAF's MIG 27 or Kfir fighter jets.

In response to the attack, the SLAF launched a Bell 212 helicopter to intercept the LTTE aircraft. The helicopter crash landed about 15 kilometers from the airbase, in Mihintale. While publicly the SLAF said the helicopter crashed due to a technical problem, others said the helicopter was brought down by friendly fire. The LTTE aircraft were not intercepted and appear to have returned safely to LTTE-controlled territory. A power blackout was implemented in Colombo before dawn as part of the government's contingency plans.

The destroyed Beechcraft King Air 200T was equipped with an obsolete Israeli forward-looking infrared system, and was scheduled to receive an upgrade to a third generation Star Sapphire III system. The SLAF's remaining King Air 200 was equipped with High Star synthetic aperture radar which has been broken for over two years. Approximately 75 percent of the SLAF's airborne surveillance capacity was destroyed in the attack. SLAF was looking to replace the King Air 200 as soon as possible through the purchase of a "non-missionized" King Air 200, which would not require a U.S. export license and could be delivered in as little as 30 days.





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