26th October 1997

Probe-team blasts Air Chief

By Iqbal Athas

A string of air crashes during the so called Eelam War Three caused countrywide concern on the role of the Sri Lanka Air Force. So much so, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appointed a high powered Committee to probe the incidents.

It was headed by Mr. Chandrananda de Silva, Defence Secretary and comprised Lt. Gen. Denis Perera, a former Commander of the Army, Mr. Cyril Herath, a former Inspector General of Police, Air Vice Marshal Pathman (Paddy) Mendis, a former Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force and Mr. C.R. de Silva, Additional Solicitor General.

The Committee which made a detailed probe handed over its report to President Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on August 27.

The high level Committee has made serious indictments against the Commander of Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe.

In his evidence before the Committee, the Report says "The Commander stated that the DMI (Director, Military Intelligence) gives various intelligence reports and if he were to accept all such reports 'there would be no Air Force flying,' "This answer epitomizes a complete lack of responsibility by the Commander and had he taken the intelligence reports seriously, the loss of Avro aircraft CR 834 and CR 835 may have been averted.

The report adds: It also appears from the Commander's statement that he did not believe the LTTE to possess Stinger missiles as "the USA has recovered all Stinger missiles from the American continent and was paying US$ 200,000 for all missiles surrendered in Afghanistan.

The CR 83 Avro was destroyed by a suspected LTTE missile attack on April 29, 1995 killing 51 service personnel on board. CR 834 was also destroyed by a suspected missile attack on April 28, 1995 killing 54 persons on board.

The Sunday Times today reports exclusively on the findings of the Committee:


In respect of the types of aircraft which were involved in the accidents, the Committee has the following comments to make in regard to their need and suitability:

IA 58 Pucara - The SLAF had been using Sia Marchetti TP trainer aircraft for ground attack in support of the Army. However, with the LTTE digging into the ground and using fortified bunkers, the payload of these aircraft which was limited to approximately 500 kg. and which carried only 7.62 MM Machine Guns was considered inadequate to meet Army support requirements. Accordingly tenders were called and two aircraft met the technical requirements. These were the Tucano made in Brazil and the Pucara made in Argentina. The Committee finds that the Pucara was suitable as a Ground Attack Aircraft, but considering the financial constraints in purchasing which reduced the numbers to only four units and the heavy operational costs involved, the Tucano aircraft would have been a more suitable aircraft to have been purchased. The Tucano aircraft was in use in many more countries than the Pucara. The Pucara had been phased out at that stage.

MI-17 Helicopter - The largest helicopter in use with the Air Force were the Bell 212/414 which had a carrying capacity of only 11-14 passengers. However, as most of these were fitted with side firing guns, the passenger load had to be reduced further. With the escalation of LTTE activity and the isolation of certain Army camps, it became necessary to introduce helicopters with a much higher payload and passenger capacity.

MI -24 Helicopter- The SLAF did not possess dedicated attack helicopters, but used the Bell 212 helicopter as Attack Helicopter by fitting 7.62 MM Machine Guns on either side and carrying air gunners to operate these guns. A small quantity of bombs and/or rockets were also carried on these helicopters.

These helicopters were vulnerable to enemy fire and considered inadequate for the proposed operation "Riviresa" liberate the Jaffna Peninsula.

This aircraft type is most suitable but the three "purchased" aircraft which were delivered were unsuitable and not accepted resulting in the need to lease out similar aircraft.

AN-32 Heavy Transport - The transport fleet of the SLAF consisted of five ageing Avro 748 aircraft, two of which was transferred to the SLAF from Air Ceylon, two Y-8 aircraft purchased from China, and nine Y-12 aircraft also of Chinese origin. As the demand for air transport increased a suitable transport aircraft was required to be added to the fleet. The previous Government had included AN 32 aircraft in its FR US$ 72 M deal which was cancelled by the present Government. The AN 32 was a high powered transport aircraft built in Russia and in large scale operation in India. Its powerful engines ensured a high rate of climb which was required to take the aircraft outside the Missile Bubble. With the loss of 2x Avro 748 aircraft in two days, a severe shortage of transport capacity was experienced.

UAV Spy Planes - The Army had requested the purchase of UAV Spy Planes as part of the Army inventory, but this request had been turned down by the former Government. This aircraft had the capability of flying over enemy territory by remote control and without a pilot on board. Though relatively inexpensive by itself, it carried very sophisticated and expensive equipment which could detect enemy activity by use of video and Infra Red cameras and could transmit these pictures to Army/SLAF control rooms. These aircraft were used extensively in the Gulf war but several were lost as the technology was still in its infancy. The Air Force made a request to purchase these aircraft as a surveillance aircraft and three machines together with Control Stations and cameras were acquired. This aircraft has its uses and limitations and is considered an expensive way of information gathering as the technology is still in its infancy.

Kfir Aircraft - The aircraft available to the Air Force for ground attack was the ageing Sia Marchetti TP, the Chinese FT5/F-7 and the Pucara. The Sia Marchetti payload was very small and had virtually been relegated to the training role. The Chinese F7 aircraft were really interceptor aircraft and therefore, carried a relatively small payload for ground attack. Of the four Pucara aircraft purchased in 1993, only 3 remained, of which only 02 aircraft could be made available for operations. The Kfir aircraft does carry a payload of approximately 1.5 tons and are suitable for the ground attack role, but the Committee feels that a proper evaluation had not been done between the Kfir and the Chinese A-5 Ground Attack Aircraft which was also suitable and available at the time of purchase.


An aircraft is the combination of an airframe, engine, avionics and other components which can be evaluated by specialist officers of such disciplines. As such, there should be a Committee representing each of these disciplines to evaluate the aircraft technically and operational performance and should include the Chief of Staff.

The Committee finds that there is no such organization in the Air Force for evaluating aircraft requirements and purchases. It appears that some sort of discussion is permitted under the control of the Commander, but the Chief of Staff has stated that at such discussions he is not always consulted. In the case of the attempted purchase of the Beech Craft Aircraft, he knew about it, only when some Officers asked for their passports to proceed to USA to take delivery.

The Committee observes that certain purchases of aircraft have been made without adhering to accepted tender procedures. Whilst agreeing that for reasons of operational urgency, deviation from tender procedure may be necessary, the Committee is of the view that in such instances, adequate safeguards should be maintained to ensure that the most suitable item of equipment is purchased at the most economical price. In one instance in connection with the purchase of the Kfir aircraft, the Commander had been directed to recommend a suitable Ground Attack Aircraft for purchase. This Committee is of the view that such recommendations should not be left to the Commander of the Air Force, but to a Committee comprising of -

i) The Commander of the Air Force;

ii) Chief of Staff of the Air Force;

ii) Director/Logistics;

iv) Director/Aeronautical Engineering; and

v) Such other Specialist Officers who may be necessary

IA-58 Pucara - The original specifications were drawn up to meet the Tucano aircraft. However, during the evaluation procedure, the specifications were changed to meet the Pucara aircraft. The Treasury Official on the Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (CATB) dissented. However, the Pucara was purchased on a recommendation of the then Secretary Defence that these aircraft are not to be considered additions to the Air Force inventory, but required for a year to win the war! It is regrettable that no proper evaluation and consideration of the very valid dissenting report had been made prior to the purchase.

Ml-24 Helicopter - Prior to Operation Riviresa/ a policy decision had been taken to replace the Bell 212, then in use. Since this was considered as an urgent need, a proposal made by the SLAF to proceed on some 11 offers then available with the SLAF as against inviting fresh quotations, had been accepted.

These 11 offers had been received between May and August of 1995. Firstly, these 11 offers were evaluated by a Technical Committee of the SLAF. They made a recommendation that a team be despatched to examine the lowest offer made by the Ulan State Company of Kazaksthan. This inspection team has met with several obstacles and finally a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been signed for 06 helicopters, none of which were received. In retrospect, it is observed that Ulan State Company was only a front of Global Omarus, who had entered as financiers.

The urgency for overlooking the need for fresh quotations though acceptable in the context of the then prevailing situation, did not in fact stand the test of time, when finally the substitute aircraft subjected to overhauls were received months after operations were concluded, pushing the Government of Sri Lanka to lease out helicopters for urgent requirements.

The whole episode appears to be a questionable transaction, and two of the helicopters under this agreement are yet to be received, almost two years after the signing of the MOU in Kazaksthan.

Kfir - The Commander informed the Committee that these aircraft were purchased outside tender procedure on the grounds that no other country would offer us Ground Attack aircraft as India would object. The Committee finds that the Chinese Government had sold F-7 Fighter Aircraft to the SLAF and had offered A-5 Ground Attack Aircraft at the time of the Tucano/Pucara tender. This offer had been rejected as it did not conform to the tender specifications as it was a 'Jet" aircraft, but two years later, Kfir aircraft (also Jet) was purchased. This Committee observes that China had offered 06 x A5 brand new aircraft in 1993 for a price of US$28.5 M whereas we paid US$ 28.9 M for 06 second hand Kfir aircraft in 1995.

AN 32 - Purchase of this aircraft was originally proposed in the US$ 72 Million transaction launched during the period of the last Government. This transaction was cancelled by the new Government in 1994.

On a directive issued by the Government, the SLAF issued a revised notice in December, 1994 inviting quotations for the supply of Antonovs or similar aircraft". From amongst the 14 offers of 11 tenderers, the offer made by Global Omarus had been accepted. In the purchase of an aircraft, warranties and guarantees from the manufacturer should be available. Competing claims had been made by most Tenderers that they could obtain such warranties after the award. At this stage, the MOD had instructed the Sri Lanka Embassy in Moscow to verify this matter with KAPA, the Manufacturing Plant. They had confirmed to the Ambassador that the warranties and guarantees could be given only to Voentech Russia - Global Omarus. Accordingly the tender had been awarded to them.

Subsequently in 1996, more transport aircraft were required. The MOD established direct contact with the manufacturer KAPA through the Sri Lanka Embassy in Moscow and obtained 04 Antonovs at a unit cost lower than the previous purchase. Ml 17 - Tenders were called in 1993 and the lowest tenderer was Solaris Corporation of Russia. A contract was entered into with Solaris. However, the Soviet Ambassador had spoken to Secretary Defence and later the Commander and had informed that Solaris Corporation was not a reputed Company and that neither the factory nor the Soviet Government would be responsible in the event of a purchase from Solaris Corporation. Kazan further stated that they would refuse to give product support unless the helicopters were purchased from Avia Export, the official Government Agency for the export of helicopters. The SLAF team that visited Solaris Corporation confirmed that the aircraft offered by them were not suitable. After negotiations with Avia Export/Kazan the price was reduced to US$4.475 which was only US$275,000 more than that offered by Solaris.

UAV Spy Plane - This is a spy aircraft obtained outside tender procedure. Committee is made to understand that the SLAF had not examined the availability or the relative suitability of any other spy aircraft. Committee is made to understand that this spy plane was introduced by an Agent of the Israel Air Industries. One of these aircraft had been used for demonstration purposes.

After the demonstrations proved that it could spy on the enemy, a proposal had been made to purchase it.. But there had been a difference of opinion for three main reasons, as to whether the level of ground intelligence was inadequate or ineffective, or whether there are more efficient other spy planes, or the most important issue, as to whether the remote control system of this spy plane could fall into the hands of the enemy and in itself become a serious threat.

Sometime later, inspite of these observations, a decision had been taken to purchase three sets of these spy planes.

The major part of the cost in this system is the Ground Control Unit. The cost of the aircraft itself is not very high. If the frequency of the ground control system would not fall into the hands of the enemy, and ground intelligence is considered still inadequate, even more spy aircraft may be inducted after further verification.

The Nature of Missions and circumstances under which they took place.

The Committee finds that except for the Y 12s destroyed on the ground at China Bay, all losses occurred during flights as categorised below:

(a) Transport 08 aircraft

(b) Combat 03 aircraft

(c) Reconnaissance 01 aircraft

(d) Ferry Flights 01 aircraft

(e) Surveillance aircraft 02 UAV aircraft

The Pucara CA 601 was lost in combat and was struck by a missile following a rocket attack on an enemy target at Pandatterippu. Avro CR 835 (First Avro) was shot down by the enemy just after take off from Palaly Airport. All other aircraft were lost on missions due to reasons that could have been averted with better command and control, training and better airmanship.

The state of intelligence information and whether optimum use was made

Evidence was placed before this Committee that Intelligence Reports both from the Director Military Intelligence and Director, National Intelligence Bureau indicated that the LTTE had missiles. These reports have been made available to the Commander of the Air Force in 1994. The Committee observes with concern that the intelligence reports were not given the attention that they deserve and no serious considerations had been given to the counter measures that should be taken and necessary preventive strategies planned and implemented on a systematic basis.

In evidence before this Committee, the Commander stated that Director, Military Intelligence gives various intelligence reports and if he were to accept all such reports "there would be no Air Force flying!" This answer epitomizes a complete lack of responsibility by the Commander and had he taken the intelligence reports seriously, the loss of Avro aircraft CR 834 and CR 835 may have been averted. It also appears from the Commander's statement that he did not believe the LTTE to possess Stinger missiles as "the USA has recovered all Stinger missiles from the American Continent and was paying US $ 200,000 for all missiles surrendered in Afghanistan"

The Commander has informed that he has established his own intelligence organization under an Air Intelligence officer and that all D/MI reports are sent to the A/O who collates all information and disseminates it to the Squadron after discussions with the Commander and Director Operations. This was done after the loss of the Avro aircraft.

The Committee is of the opinion that the optimum use of intelligence reports has not been made.


A military service operates on the basis of discipline and morale. These two are very closely linked and any lowering of one has an adverse effect on the other. Discipline is maintained in the Service through a rank structure with the Commander at the apex and the Airmen at the base. By Law, the Commander is given virtually dictatorial powers to maintain discipline and the Service operates on the principle of "Comply and complain".

To assist the Commander in his Command and Control of the Air Force, he has a Board of Management of senior Officers with specialised skills. His Principal Staff Officer is the Chief of Staff who is expected to relieve The Commander of the day to day administration and operation of the Service, leaving the Commander to concentrate on operational, planning and Tri Service matters. It is important that the Commander and his Chief of Staff work in a most cordial atmosphere. It would be most desirable for the Commander and the Chief of Staff to be good friends.

The Commander and his Chief of Staff control the operational pilots and units and maintain discipline and morale through a Chain of Command consisting of Base Commanders, Wing Commanders, Squadron Commanders and Flight Commanders. However, the Commander has informed this Committee that the Air Force does not have many experienced and Senior Officers making his personal supervision necessary. This statement is not consistent with the ranks held by these officers who must be made to accept responsibility commensurate with their ranks and appointments.

The Committee finds several instances of poor Command and Control which have been major contributory causes for the losses. The Committee has considered the possible reasons for this state of affairs and finds -

(a) Relationship between Commander and Chief of Staff

- there appears to be open conflict between the Commander and his Chief of Staff. Some of the remarks made by the Commander in the Court of Inquiry proceedings leaves no doubt whatsoever regarding this. As a consequence of this open conflict the Chief of Staff has been sidelined from the decision making and Command process. In a disciplined Service, this has had its effect "down the line" and there appears to be two camps backing one or the other.

(b) Span of Control - Normal principles of Management indicate that a manager cannot effectively control more than 7 sub managers/ units. If there are more, they should be grouped together and powers delegated. Under the present organization of the Air Force, the Commander directly controls more than 15 units, and has not delegated powers to subordinate Commanding Officers.

As a result, there is lack of proper supervision and Control of the flying units.

(c) Morale - This Committee is of the view that there is a loss of morale in the Air Force resulting from dissatisfaction in regard to Command and Control factors and a lack of consultative process in respect of procurement of aircraft and equipment.

(d) Officer Cadre - The Air Force has suffered the loss of several senior and high calibre Officers in the past two years which has caused a problem in the Chain of Command.

(e) Training - There has been insufficient attention being given for training. Whilst appreciating that priority has to be given for operations, hurried and inadequate induction of new aircraft into service has affected Flight Safety and is considered a contributory factor to the accidents. The Pilot strength is presently less than half the approved cadre.

The Committee finds the following accidents have had a strong element of command inadequacies:

(a) Avro CR 834 - (aircraft shot down over Palaly) Following the loss of CR 835 the previous day, CR 834 was detailed for a routine mission to Jaffna. The Squadron Commander had briefed their pilots of the possibility of missile attack. Soon after the loss of CR 835, CO Palaly had informed Senior Air Staff Officer that intercepted LTTE transmissions revealed a claim by the LTTE of having destroyed 835. The Commander in the course of his evidence before this Committee stated that he was due to fly to Palaly the following morning - 29/04/1995. However, he cancelled the flight on hearing the loss of CR 834. In answer to a question by this Committee, he stated that he would have taken a different route had he flown to Jaffna as planned. This would indicate that he had not ruled out the possibility of a missile attack on CR 835 the previous day. In the light of the intelligence reports and the answer of the Commander quoted above, this Committee finds it difficult to comprehend

(i) why the Commander permitted 834 to proceed to Jaffna on a routine mission;

(ii) why he failed to give specific orders to Staff Air Staff Officer to instruct all flying formations to take precautions against possible missile attacks.

(b) AN 32 CR 861 - (Aircraft crashed into the sea off Ja-Ela) The Captain had disobeyed the Air Traffic Control and had turned right into the weather instead of turning left as instructed. Other Pilots operating before CR 861 had also reported bad weather and they had changed their take-off procedure by using R/W 04. The Squadron Commander should have exercised better control of his Pilots and should have briefed them before departure.

(c) Y 8 CR 871 - (Palaly) The aircraft was hit whilst on its approach path to Palaly airport. There had been very poor co-ordination between the Air Force and Navy. Standing Orders given regarding the position/patrolling of the approach path by the Navy had not been followed.

The helicopter used for patrolling had not been armed according to Standing Orders. This situation had prevailed for some time, had been observed by the enemy who planned to use the lapses on the part of the Navy/Air Force to their advantage, but no action was taken by the SLAF to ensure the safety of the approach path being used by their aircraft.

(d) AN 32 CR 862 - (Crashed into the sea off Karainagar) The CO 2 Wing who had flown the previous sortie into Palaly had been very disturbed when he had seen some suspicious boats close to the shore of enemy dominated North West sector of the Peninsula. He had taken evasive action, had switched off his engines on arrival at Palaly, called for transport and gone to the Control Tower and reported his sightings to Air Traffic Control and to Director Operations who was at Palaly at that time. No action had been taken to warn subsequent arrivals of the possibility of enemy boats in the let down area. CR 862 had left Ratmalana 01 hour later than briefed due to Pilot having overslept, and arrived in Jaffna at dusk. The remains of the aircraft was found in the sea area where the boats had been sighted. However, the Commander informed the Committee that the Captain had shown lack of discipline as was evidenced from his personal file produced by the Commander before this Committee. Had the Captain left Ratmalana as ordered, this accident could have possibly been averted.

(e) Bell 212 CH 546 - (Destroyed on ground after being abandoned) A VIP flight carrying the Deputy Defence Minister where the Commander had withdrawn due to personal reasons, and Chief of Staff was detailed to accompany the VIP. Lack of proper briefing/communication between the Commander and Chief of Staff was one of the contributory causes of this near national disaster.

(f) AN 32 CR 865 - (Crashed on take off at Ratmalana) The cause of this accident was a chaotic mix up between the crew where the Captain acted as Co-Pilot, the Co-Pilot was in charge of flying the aircraft, where the Captain called incorrect speeds, the Co-Pilot attempted to lift off before the correct speed, the aircraft tail touched the runway, the Captain closed throttles and the Flight Engineer raised the undercarriage! The crew had not flown together as a crew before. There had been no crew briefing. The Standard Operating Procedures were incomplete and the Squadron Commander had not briefed his crews regarding different procedures as laid down in the Flight Manual and as practiced by the Russian Crew Members. There is no CRM (Crew Resource Management) training carried out in the SLAF.

(g) Y-12 CR 856 - This aircraft was destroyed on ground by the enemy infiltrating the Base. The Base Defence was very poorly planned and operated. There has been no supervision by Air Force Headquarters/Director of Operations of the Base Defence System and the Base Commander had been left to do his own defence.


Courts of Inquiry - The evaluation of the evidence and the findings thereon by the Courts of Inquiry in most instances have been inadequate. The Committee is constrained to observe that the Commander of the Air Force has failed to make a proper evaluation of the shortcomings of the Courts of Inquiry and to give proper directions to clarify and remedy these shortcomings. The Committee also observes that in most instances, the Commander has only made routine observations and failed to address his mind to substantial issues germane to the crashes.


Your Excellency was pleased to appoint us Members of a Committee to conduct investigations and report on the sixteen (16) air crashes which occurred between April, 1995 and May, 1997 along with recommendations for remedial/ preventive action with particular reference to:

(a) The suitability, as compared to the specific situation and needs, the condition, the cost of acquisition of the aircraft, and the procedures adopted for such acquisition, and condition upto the time of destruction /loss;

(b) The ranks, special qualifications and experience of the crew that manned each one of the said aircraft;

(c) The loss of lives/injuries to persons and the estimated monetary loss caused to the Sri Lankan Air Force by the destruction/loss of the said aircraft;

(d) The nature of the missions undertaken by the crew of the said aircraft and circumstances under which the said missions took place;

(e) The state intelligence/information regarding any possible attacks on the said aircraft immediately preceding the destruction/loss of the said aircraft and whether optimum use was made of such intelligence information;

(f) The adequacy of precautions taken by the Sri Lanka Air Force against possible enemy attacks in the light of intelligence or information available at the time;

(g) The chain of command responsible in respect of the matters stated in (e) and (f) above, and whether there were any lapses on the part of any Officer in the said chains which contributed towards the destruction/loss of the said aircraft;

(h) The short and long term recommendations to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future.

The Committee assembled for the first time at 3.00 p.m. on 10 May, 1997 at the Ministry of Defence and met regularly thereafter. A diary of meetings is attached as Appendix 'A' to this report.

The Committee examined all relevant Courts of Inquiry and sought clarification in several cases where the Courts of Inquiry were inadequate or illogical, received representations from individuals and inquired into them, interviewed senior Air Force Officers who could shed more light on the various matters this

The loss of lives and monetary loss to the SLAF since 1994

The Committee finds that-

(a) The loss of crew members are 34

(b) The loss of passengers are 262

(c) The numbers of injured crew members is 01

(d) The number of injured passengers are 41

(e) The total value of the loss of SLAF equipment at the time of loss is US$ 30,847,666/-

Cost of aircraft acquired

IA-58 Pucara - The purchase price was US$.2,360,000/= each CIF new

Ml 24 Helicopter - The purchase price was US$. 1,350,000/= each CIF second hand

Ml 17 Helicopter - The purchase price was US$.1,947,333/33 each CIF new.

AN 32 Transport - The purchase price was US$.4,500,000/= each CIF new

Kfir Ground Attack - The purchase price was US$.2,960,000/= each CIF second hand

UAV Spy Planes -The purchase price of the entire package, including ground station was US$.4,770,000/=. Each UAV, with camera and other equipment is assessed at US$.400,000/= each.

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