The Sri Lanka Air Force possesses extensive and unique experience in combating terrorism
Posted on January 17th, 2020

MEDIA RELEASE-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

(Translation of the text of the speech delivered by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on the occasion of the Commissioning of officers and the award of  Flying Brevets by the Sri Lanka Air Force on 17 January 2020)

Venerable members of the Maha Sangha, clergymen of other faiths, Hon. State Minister for Defence, Hon. Ministers, Parliamentarians, Secretary of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, Commander of the Air Force, members of the Armed Forces, parents and distinguished guests,

A new group of young officers will be joining the Sri Lanka Air Force on this day. Among those who will be commissioned as officers of the Air Force today will be who have completed their training as officer cadets, those who have completed their courses at the Kotelawala Defence University, and women officer cadets who have completed their training. Officers who have completed their flight training will also be awarded their  Flying Brevets on this occasion.

These young officers will be joining an Air Force with a proud history. All those present here will remember the 19th of May 2009, the day the war against LTTE terrorism ended. The Air Force played a major role in achieving that victory. This is the air wing of the military machine that defeated the LTTE which had long been considered to be undefeatable.

In any battlefield, enemy positions are bombed from the air before the ground forces move in. This is to minimise the resistance that ground troops may encounter. The artillery units of the ground forces also contribute to this, but the role of the Air Force is crucial. During the Vanni operations, the LTTE had built fortified earthen embankments each several kilometers long, to resist the advance of the ground troops. The Air Force attacked these fortifications from the air and facilitated the advance of the ground troops. One of the reasons why the ground troops could advance rapidly was due to the air support they got.

The Air Force also used Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for reconnaissance purposes behind enemy lines and the artillery units on the ground were thereby able to obtain accurate information on potential enemy targets. I believe it is our Air Force, among all other Air Forces in the world which has the most extensive experience in combatting terrorism. No terrorist organisation in the world has had air capability. Even ISIS which controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria for a while, did not have the capacity to launch terrorist attacks by air. The LTTE was unique among terrorist organisations in that respect. They introduced a new dimension to global terrorism through their air attacks. Their strategy was to use slow, low-flying small aircraft that operate only at night to carry out attacks.

Our people used the term ‘kurumbetti’ to refer to the LTTE’s attack aircraft. But the LTTE used these small aircraft to bomb important facilities such as the oil refinery in Kolonnawa, the oil storage facilities in Kerawalapitiya and the Air Force base in Katunayake. Fortunately for us, those attacks were not successful. If they had succeeded, the damage would have been immense. When the LTTE commenced these air operations, the attention of the entire world was focused on what was happening in Sri Lanka. The terrorists had modified their small planes in such a manner that the air to air missiles on our jet attack aircraft could not detect the heat signature from their aircraft engines. That was the first time the world had encountered such a terrorist tactic. 

It was the LTTE that introduced innovations like the suicide jacket and small, fast, explosives laden boats manned by suicide cadres to global terrorism. Using small, slow, low-flying modified aircraft for night time air attacks was another innovation that the LTTE introduced to global terrorism. These are the reasons why the FBI officially declared the LTTE to be the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2008. Thus, our Air Force possesses experience in combatting terrorism that no other Air Force in the world has. In today’s world, nation states rarely go to war with one another. Terrorism is the problem that most often requires military solutions today. In this respect, our armed forces possess a great deal of valuable experience.

The Sri Lanka Air Force entered the four decade long war from the 1980s, after the terrorists began controlling territory. From that time until the end of the end of the war, the Sri Lanka Air Force played an indispensable role in the defence of the motherland. When the LTTE concentrated all their forces and attacked isolated Army camps deep within enemy territory, Air Force pilots took enormous risks, taking helicopters into those camps to evacuate the injured and to supply arms. They also attacked the enemy from the air to relieve pressure on the beleaguered camp. The heroism of these pilots is now a part of the history of that war.

It is not only in times of war that the armed forces serve the people. They also have a peacetime role. Everyone has seen the role the Air Force plays in relief operations during disasters such as floods. That role in relief operations is something that only the Air Force can perform. The Air Force also performs surveillance duties with regard to Sri Lanka’s coast and monitors foreign vessels entering Sri Lanka’s maritime zone.

The young officers receiving their commissions and Flying Brevets today will be the heirs of that legacy of service to the nation. I have the fullest confidence that you will fulfil your future duties in a manner befitting the historic legacy of the Sri Lanka Air Force. I wish you well.

Thank you.

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