During the two-and-a-half decades of the separatist conflict, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has played a vital role in combating Tiger guerrillas and zeroing in on strategic LTTE targets.
Here, The Sunday Times reviews the role played by some of the SLAF squadrons in operations conducted during Eelam War IV.
The No. 10 fighter squadron, established on January 5, 1996 and comprising Israeli-built Kfir jets, was tasked with providing offensive support for ground and maritime operations, air surveillance and interception. The squadron also takes credit for taking out several strategic LTTE targets during the war.
In the recently concluded Eelam War IV, the squadron provided close air support for troops at the forward defence lines (FDL). Many of these close air support missions – carried out in Muhamalai, Nagarkovil, Nachchikuda, Thunukkai FDL – cleared the way for advancing troops.
|Cargo being loaded to a C 130
|Airlifting internally displaced people (above and below)
After the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru sluice gates, the Kfirs precision-bombed certain strategic targets in the East. Operations included the bombing of the Tiger base of LTTE leader “Bhanu”, in Karadiyanaru, and the bombing of the “Swarnam Base”, north of Vakkarai.
On November 2, 2007, a Kfir took part in a mission to bomb a suspected hideout of LTTE political wing leader S. P Thamilchelvam, where Thamilchelvam was due to meet with middle-level LTTE leaders. The mission resulted in the death of the LTTE political wing leader.
On November 27, acting on received intelligence, Kfir pilots carried out an air raid in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire west of Killinochchi.
On September 17, 2006, Kfir jets destroyed a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats that were carrying weapons. The incident occurred 160 nautical miles (approximately 300 km) off the East coast.
In the latter stages of Eelam War IV, the Kfirs played a major role in destroying LTTE earth bunds, thus providing openings for ground troops to advance. The Kfirs were also responsible for precision-bombing heavy LTTE gun positions.
The F-7, belonging to the SLAF No. 5 squadron, took out several enemy targets during the Eelam War IV. The 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. The F-7s were acquired in 1991 and initially used for pilot training and ground attacks.
In January 2008, the SLAF acquired F-7 GS-type interceptors to tackle air threats from LTTE aircraft.
In October 2008, the F-7 claimed its first air-to-air kill when it shot down an LTTE aircraft that had attacked the Vavuniya SLAF base. This was the first time in SLAF history that an enemy plane was brought down by an SLAF interceptor.
In other LTTE air raids, F-7 pilots intercepted low-flying LTTE aircraft, despite the risks of flying at a low altitude at supersonic speeds. On several occasions the F-7 pilots refrained from engaging the LTTE aircraft because the enemy planes were flying over populated areas, SLAF sources explained.
Like the Kfirs, the F-7s have provided close air support for advancing troops on the ground. In February this year, F-7 jets hit an ammunition dump north of Pudukkudiyirripu. In the final stages of Eelam War IV, the F-7s conducted regular aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, following intelligence reports that a foreign aircraft might be sent to Sri Lanka to evacuate besieged LTTE leaders.
The No. 8 attack helicopter squadron, comprising Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopters, played a central role in destroying several LTTE bases throughout the Eelam War IV campaign. In March this year, the squadron was presented with the President’s Colours for achievements on the battlefield.
The Mi-17 is another helicopter that played a role in transporting casualties, troops and supplies. The Mi-17 was active in almost every conflict region during Eelam War IV.
The Y-12 light transport aircraft, part of the No. 8 SLAF squadron, was another important player in the long war with the LTTE. During Eelam War IV, it was one of the main aircraft used to transport troops and supplies, operating from almost every airfield in the country. In 1995, within hours of the LTTE destroying an SLAF aircraft, the Y-12 aircraft was airborne, carrying food supplies and military hardware for troops stationed in Jaffna.
In the period of the Eelam War IV, the Y-12 transported troops and casualties in the face of heavy enemy fire.
The C-130 Hercules and Antonov-32 aircraft, part of the SLAF’s heavy transport squadron, took part in a series of operations out of airbases in Palaly, China Bay, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya and Minneriya, transporting casualties and military equipment and delivering essential items for displaced people and troops.
These giants in the sky served as a lifeline between the North and the South whenever immediate transportation was required.