In 1983 the country faced a week of anarchy as a direct result of set backs faced by the Army in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, at the hands of terrorists. However, history reveals the refleeting patterns of SLAF and how it was only in 1985 that 19 aircraft were added to the fleet with only a few ground attack units in this complement
All this while, the Air Force stuck to its role of air support in the form of reconnaissance and transport services provided to the Army and Police and also the Navy. By May 1985, Air Vice Marshal Walter Fernando had assumed command of the SLAF.
By the late 80s, the SLAF ceased to operate its ageing DC3, Heron, Riley-Heron and Dove aircraft. Thus the SLAF suggested to the Government that it should seek newer aircraft to supplement its transport activities being borne now by the Avro HS748s and the Cessna's. Thus, in the year 1984/85, the SLAF inducted its first complement of Bell 412 helicopters, along with a host of other fixed and rotary-winged aircraft.
Meanwhile, flying activities for the SLAF continued to be accomplished by No. 1 FTS of the SLAF Academy at China Bay which had been renamed as No. 1 FTW, No. 2 Transport Squadron at Ratmalana and No. 4 Helicopter Squadron at Katunayake. As per its role No. 2 Transport Squadron carried troops, VIPs, cargo, operated commercial flights and carried out aerial survey missions too.
Although the home of No. 4 Helicopter Squadron continued to be Katunayake, it positioned several Bell 212 and Bell Jet Ranger helicopters at Palali, in support of the Army in Jaffna. These helicopters moved supplies to the forward based Army Camps, supported ground troops by being configured with either machine guns or rocket pods and joining in offensives and also performed casualty evacuation operations.
The SLAF flew a record 11887 flying hours in 1985 more than the sum of the flying hours recorded from the two previous years together, and an 86.7% increase over 1984 alone. These statistics alone, show how the role of the SLAF had increased quite dramatically, in the light of escalating war activity.
Keeping Man and Machine Aloft
The blip of terrorism bore down heavily on the Army, Police and Navy and the Air Force had a correspondingly heavy workload in support of the ground and sea war effort, with air transport and reconnaissance, plus a fledgling flutter of attack capability. At the time the Government of Sri Lanka found it increasingly difficult to obtain the military hardware and ancillary services and equipment required to fight a war. There weren't many countries willing to supply Air Force requirements.
The escalation of terrorism also meant that the Air Force had to further develop and utilize its outlying airfields. From the peacetime concentration on Katunayake, China Bay and Diyatalawa, the SLAF had to mount operational flying into the conflict areas from their airfields in Palali, Vavuniya, China Bay and Anuradhapura.
With the escalating threat of terrorism from the mid-eighties onwards and the induction of new aircraft and weaponry, the Logistics directorate began to establish Supply and Air Movements Squadrons in key bases such as Anuradhapura, China Bay and Ratmalana. Air Vice Marshal Duncan Dissanayake played a key role in setting up the Air Movements Squadron at Ratmalana, and also Refueling Sections at all Air Force Bases.
AVM Dissanayake encapsulates the role of SLAF's Logistics Organisation, thus, The objective of the Logistics Organisation is not merely to purchase and store items, but to also be able to forecast requirements and have the right equipment, in the right quantity, at the right time, at the right place .
The Aeronautical Engineering wing too had to cope with new demands, occasioned by conflict conditions. There was an increased demand for repairs on a more varied and numerous fleet, a stock of spares had to be held in forward locations, to facilitate running repairs and a quick turnaround of aircraft to facilitate operations. The forward supply demands increased, requiring immediate supplies of equipment at locations far away from the main stock holding centres.