The war took a significant turn in May 1987. The JOC launched Operation Liberation or what came to be commonly called the Vadamarachi Operation . This was a clear and hold operation on an extremely large scale, conducted in the Vadamarachi area in the district of Jaffna. It was the biggest military operation undertaken by the Sri Lankan armed forces, up to that time. The sheer logistics and planning that went into this operation were unprecedented for all three armed forces.
The Air Force mustered 1 AVRO, 2 Y-12s and 1 Heron, all configured as improvised bombers a far cry from the purposes for which they were designed. Another 2 AVROs, 2 Y12s and 2 Doves were used as transports, ferrying personnel and goods to and from Colombo, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee as and when required. A Y-12 was reserved for CASEVAC duties.
Three of the venerable Cessna 337 Skymasters were devoted to reconnaissance missions over land and sea. The Cessna s along with the Jet Ranger helicopters performed air observation point missions too. 6 Siai Marchetti SF 260s were entrusted with a Fighter/Ground Attack role and performed Close Air Support and Battlefield interdiction missions.
Two helicopters were configured as gunships and provided Close Air Support in their slow flying mode, distinct from that of the fixed wings. 8 helicopters were configured as troop carriers, two more were configured as both troop carriers and CASEVAC aircraft, whilst another three, configured as troop carriers, were held in reserve.
Palali airfield became a temporary home base for the Vadamarachi fleet . Operation Liberation had all the hallmarks of one of the largest and most decisive campaigns launched by Government forces up to that time.
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 87 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.
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, 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.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, 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.
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.
Birth of the Museum
The AP & SU completed a labour of love, with the help of one of Air Lanka's Tristar Captain (Capt Dave Hawkes) the restoration of a De Havilland Tiger Moth 82 aircraft. The Tiger Moth had been a virtual wreck, lying in the hangars of Ratmalana, when it was taken over by the SLAF in 1982 and made airworthy in 1988.
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. The Aircraft Preservation & Salvage Unit (AP & SU) at Ratmalana introduced several more workshops and overhaul bays in 1988/89, whilst rehabilitating more and more aircraft joining its Museum section.
The Aeronautical Engineering Wing at Katunayake commissioned a Rotor Blade Bay in 1988. The General Engineering Wing began manufacture of 4 models of bombs for the SLAF. They were also responsible for constructing and equipping the SLAF's stalls at the Gam Udawa Exhibition, a project initiated by President Premadasa, in June each year.
Dress Regulations (which still specified the use of Khakhi) were fully revised and Parliamentary approval obtained and gazetted for the changes. Despite the demands of war, Commander Walter Fernando saw to it that a whole host of projects were completed during his period of command.
Air Marshal Walter Fernando was promoted to Air Chief Marshal on 15th February 1990 - he retired on 16th February 1990. He was appointed Secretary to the Minister of Defence on 17th February 1990 and subsequently appointed Secretary, Defence on 7th September 1993. ACM Walter Fernando is the only Commander of the Air Force to date, to have held this position.
To Arms Once More
After the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force hostilities were resumed against the Government forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Commencing in June 1990 this phase of the conflict began with land operations against Army Camps and frontier villages.
The Sri Lanka Army which had been confined to barracks during the sojourn of the IPKF, and had later fought a very different foe (the Southern insurrection in late 80's) were at a distinct disadvantage.
The SLAF had just inducted its new Commander Air Marshal M.J.T. de S. Gunawardena. Commander Terry Gunawardena took charge of an Air Force about to go to war again.
When the offensive commenced, Batticaloa and Kiran and other smaller Army Camps and Detachments came under attack in the East. In the North, Army Camps along the Vavuniya - Elephant Pass road such as Mankulam, Kokavil and Kilinochchi were attacked, as was the Jaffna Fort.
Access by road became increasingly hazardous due to terrorist ambushes. This was the cue for the SLAF to step in and provide air transport and close air support to ground troops.
Ground attack missions were also undertaken. On 1st January 1987, No. 4 Helicopter Squadron was renamed No. 4 Helicopter Wing and its first CO was Gp Capt Oliver Ranasinghe.