MI-24 Joined SLAF
The escalation of hostilities prompted further aircraft acquisitions six more Mi-17 tactical helicopters were purchased. For the first time, an attack helicopter in the form of the Mi-24 joined the SLAF fleet three of these aircraft were leased until delivery of those purchased by SLAF. The Mi-24s were temporarily attached to No. 401 Squadron at Hingurakgoda (later No. 7 Helicopter Squadron).
At the same time, three Antonov AN-32B transport aircraft joined No. 201 Heavy Transport Squadron (later No. 2 Heavy Transport Squadron). Later the Mi-24s attached to No. 401 Squadron were regrouped as No. 9 Attack Helicopter Squadron in November 1995, and remained at Hingurakgoda. The Mi-24, as with the Mi-17, proved to be a tremendous aircraft. Heavily armoured, the Mi-24s capacity to absorb a great deal of battle damage and remain operational, soon endeared it to the SLAF.
If the ground war was the most intensely fought affair in 1995, the Air Force too had scars to show for it! In the year, six aircraft were lost and even more tragically fourteen experienced pilots lost their lives. Two Avro HS748 aircraft were downed by enemy fire on 28th and 29th April. In July, an IA58 Pucara was lost. One of the newly added AN32Bs went down in September, a Y-8 in November and another AN32B also in November. All except the Pucara belonged to No. 201 Heavy Transport Squadron. The bringing down of the two Avro HS748s revealed a new capability of the terrorists anti-aircraft missile power.
The lack of any intelligence to reveal that the terrorists did, in fact, possess missile capabilities, cost the SLAF dearly in terms of aircraft losses. However a total of 25 missions were supported by the SLAF in the battle areas. The main thrust was Operation Riviresa, stages 1, 2 and 3, up to that time the largest military operation conducted by the Army. These missions helped capture large areas of the Jaffna Peninsula. The newly acquired Mi-24 attack helicopters played a significant role in the battles.
Of Kfirs and UAVs
Infrastructurally, Hingurakgoda was elevated to SLAF Base status the first Base Commander being Wg Cdr T.L.W. Dissanayake. The Aeronautical Engineering Wing began rewiring of Bell 212/412 helicopters in 1996. It also began to undertake the 1000 hour service on the 212 hitherto performed at Squadron level. In ground armament, a significant development was the 23 mm ZU23 anti-aircraft machine gun, which enhanced the SLAFs air defence capabilities.
A new Coastal Surveillance Control Centre (CSCC) was established at Anuradhapura in March 1996 to co-ordinate coastal surveillance activities of the Navy and Air Force. This was co-ordinated by the SLAF, with representation from the Army, Navy and Police Infrastructural Support
Excellence of Another Kind
This episode had its beginnings in 1993, when the SLAF established their own Command Quality Assurance Inspectorate, at Ratmalana Base. Initially the Quality Assurance programmes were put into practice under the guidance of the Director of Aeronautical Engineering.
In 1994, the Inspectorate was placed directly under the Commander of the Air Force. In 1996, the efforts made in maintaining the highest of standards paid off - the SLAF won Sri Lanka's National Quality Award for Excellence in the Large Scale Service Category!
Flying Operations - 1997
In 1997 the SLAF flew over 20,000 hours, operationally for the first time ever, logging 21,895 hours in total and they did this despite losing nine manned aircraft. The toll was 2 - Y12s, 2 - Mi-24s, 1 - AN 32B, 1 - Pucara, 1 - Siai Marchetti SF 260 TP, 1 - Bell 212, and 1 - Kfir C2. The Air Force supported 14 operations throughout 1997, of these, Operation Jayasikuru launched in May was one of the most significant.
Operation Jayasikuru was by far the most arduous undertaking for the SLAF. This we may glean from the sheer number of missions flown by SLAF aircraft. The Kfir jets flew 232 missions whilst the Mi-24 Attack Helicopters flew 127 missions and the Pucaras 13!