SLAF: ‘Guardians Of The Skies’ celebrates 72nd anniversary | Daily News

SLAF: ‘Guardians Of The Skies’ celebrates 72nd anniversary

Commanding Officer and Instructors.
Commanding Officer and Instructors.

The role and task of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is laden with dedication and sacrifice. It is a brilliant manifestation of teamwork, courage, people-centric decision-making and responsibility at all levels within the command structure of the SLAF. The Royal Ceylon Air Force was established on March 2, 1951. With Ceylon becoming a republic in 1972, the Royal Ceylon Air Force changed its name to the Sri Lanka Air Force.

The SLAF fleet has been consistently upgraded to meet operational requirements. During the period of conflict working behind the scenes engineering wings serviced and kept all aircraft in a state of round-the-clock operational readiness. Another vital contribution of the SLAF was the build-up of air defence networks on the ground to ward off aerial threats of the LTTE. This complex network included fixed and mobile radars, anti-aircraft guns and a dedicated group of intelligence officers. The fighter jet squadrons and attack helicopter squadrons fiercely dominated the skies. These fighter pilots collectively flew hundreds of sorties and engaged in tactical air interception, air interdiction and surgical air strikes. Aircraft such as the Y-12 airlifted food and other essential supplies. The C-130 Hercules and AN-32 aircraft engaged in many heavy-lift missions, including food supplies to civilians when road access was not possible. The B-200 (Beechcraft) contributed immensely through aerial observations and surveillance. The SLAF has successfully complemented UN deployments in peacekeeping missions by setting up and maintaining two aviation contingents deployed in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

SLAF Palaly

The Northern Province is embellished with centuries of culture and history. Palaly has been a strategically important location from the time the Royal Air Force (RAF) decided to set up an airfield. An assortment of vintage bombers and other auxiliary aircraft once flew from this airfield in the defence of Ceylon. Today the SLAF Station Palaly is a vital component of the Security Forces Cantonment in the Northern Province. This airfield played a crucial role in the transport of logistics and troops during the three decades of conflict. At one stage SLAF Palaly was the lifeline to the entire Jaffna Peninsula. SLAF flights were able to transfer civilians who were in need of medical care, all the way to Colombo.

I visited SLAF Station Palaly recently to gain an insight into its post war operations and observe the civil-military cooperation activities. We visited the airfield and air traffic control tower. A Bell 212 helicopter was engaged in routine aerial observation and surveillance flight. A new project within the vast area of this SLAF Station is a fruit and vegetable cultivation. Airmen and Airwomen were engaged in cultivation during their time off. This novel concept shows that SLAF has identified the importance of eco- friendly practices and attaining its own food security. The Air Force crews had also ventured to cultivate a vineyard which is a noteworthy achievement.

Over the years the airmen and airwomen have been actively engaged in community based projects, interacting with the local residents. Among their important programmes is the cleaning of Hindu kovils and assisting in Hindu festivals when required. SLAF has also taken part in cleaning up schools. Meals have been offered to elders’ homes on festive days. These CSR projects are the way forward towards building bridges of friendship. Another vital service is provided by the SLAF Kennels Section to the Jaffna International Air Port, operating from the Palaly runway. Trained sniffer dogs and guard dogs are daily sent for duty with their Air Force handlers to the airport. SLAF Station Palaly continues its role to supplement national security.

SLAF Mullaitheevu

From Palaly we travelled 100 kilometres to Mullaitheevu. This journey crosses a vast terrain of dry area with random clusters of Palmyrah trees. We reached SLAF Station Mullaitheevu, a vast area laden with dense foliage. Within this compound the Air Force has many training schools. We visited the Disaster Management Training Centre (DMTC), which has done a magnificent yet silent service to the nation preparing professional first responders to every possible threat- be it natural or manmade. This institution was raised in June 2014.

We travelled to many training areas where training was underway. This training is not confined to the SLAF but also has members from the Army, Navy and STF. The basic course has a duration of 50 days. I was able to see a demonstration of rescuers carefully removing a victim from a landslide area, using an assortment of cables from a secure vantage point. This kind of rescue requires nerves of steel and precise decision making. Another training demonstration was done to show how to cut through a concrete wall using modern equipment. Incidentally Wing Commander Jayaweera (Commanding Officer DMTC) has completed the coveted INSARAG certification known as CSSR (Collapsed Structure Search and Rescue) which is an internationally recognized training credential. INSARAG (International Search and Rescue Advisory Group) has been guiding the SLAF Disaster Management Centre and updating them about advances made in the spectrum of search and rescue.

I was able to see the response station inside SLAF Mullaitheevu where equipment related to almost every rescue scenario was available. SLAF has diligently produced maps by which they can simultaneously coordinate both ground and airborne rescue using grid coordinates. Air Force crews are kept on a daily roster to respond to any emergency. We also met the Head of the SLAF Fire Fighting Section. Since the inception of flight operations wherever there is an airfield the fire section has been part of it. It was very impressive to see the SLAF fire response preparedness and training. At this remote SLAF Station there is another specialized training which produces a team called DART- Downed Aircraft Rescue Team.

The role and task of the Disaster Management Training School comes down to one fundamental point- the saving of human life in any emergency. The officers and instructors have done a sterling job in preparing teams to respond to any threat in our big cities where we have many high rise towers. SLAF first responders have the edge of reaching the area by helicopter.

Way forward

The Sri Lanka Air Force is an organisation that aspires to be at the forefront of technology. It is made up of a sophisticated inventory and highly skilled people. These efforts are evident in the numerous Research and Development projects that have been initiated and successfully achieved. As evidence of this, the SLAF has made great strides in the creation of its own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Recent accomplishments by the Lihiniya MK-1E illustrate that project development is advanced as it flies even further than ever before. Climbing into a new echelon of technology, the SLAF augmented its stealthy aerial information-gathering capability with the induction of drones. The Directorate of Air Operations deployed these drones to meet its operational needs.

Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana said “When I was appointed as the 18th Air Force Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, the fourfold objectives were set out to improve the air strike power and air support capability by properly maintaining the aircraft fleet and introducing new aircraft on a timely basis, improving maritime surveillance, maritime disaster management capabilities within and beyond our exclusive economic zone. Also enhancing air power and technological capability of the Air Force by researching on drones, unmanned aerial vehicles and fortification against cyber security threats to create an air force that can stand up to future threats by securing the country’s people and property in the face of natural disasters that may occur in the future. Today, I am happy to be able to achieve successful progress in a very short period of time to strengthen the force. Further, SLAF’s way forward in researching the introduction of renewable energy and exploring space monitoring is also in progress”.

The dynamic SLAF Commander further added “The Air Force’s welfare activities were expanded by starting the construction of an Air Force Base Hospital, which was a need of the Sri Lanka Air Force for 71 years, and many CSR projects were completed providing much-needed infrastructure developments in the areas of education, health, and urban development. On the 72nd Air Force anniversary, I am proud to announce that we are working collaboratively with the rest of the regional and the world’s air forces, to stand strong by utilizing highly professional human resources and limited physical resources with maximum efficiency”. Sri Lanka Air Force remains primed and ready as the guardians of our skies.

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