The three overhauled aircraft which were returned to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) will be used to enhance maritime security and maritime surveillance in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Navy, Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne said yesterday (14).
“These aircraft will cover the entire Sri Lankan waters and counter piracy and drug trafficking,” he pointed out. In addition these aircraft will also be used for emergency relief and disaster management activities, the Defence Secretary added. He also pointed out that the aircraft can be used to provide aid and support to neighbouring countries if called for assistance for relief measures.
Gunaratne made these observations during an event held to welcome the three aircraft and their crew at the SLAF Base Katunayake.
Defence Secretary General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne on the invitation of the Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana was present at the SLAF Katunayake Base to welcome the three Antonov-32s and their crew on arrival after a five day journey from Ukraine to Sri Lanka. (A direct non-stop flight from Ukraine is not possible as the range is limited to around 2,500 Km).
The Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Members of the Air Force Board of Management and the Southern Air Commander and Base Commander of SLAF Base Katunayake were also present for the occasion.
General (Retd) Gunaratne and the Commander congratulated the crew of 28 led by Group Captain Pradeep Piyaratne, the Commanding Officer of the No 02 Heavy Transport Squadron which returned back safely after covering a distance of 5,078 Nautical Miles over a period of approximately 22 flying hours. The three aircraft that returned on Friday bear the tail numbers SCM 860, SCM 863 and SCM 869.
The Defence Secretary further said, “Today is a very happy day for Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Defence, as these three planes had not been able to fly for seven years. These aircraft that have rendered a great service to us during the war period, assisted our soldiers when going and coming back from war, transported the wounded soldiers on the battlefield to Colombo and bore the burden of the bodies of the dead soldiers. Such aircraft were kept without attendance for seven years.”
Extending his gratitude to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for taking the initiative to overhaul these aircraft, the Defence Secretary stated, “The President is allowing us to be a ‘flying’ Air Force rather than a ‘stay on the ground’ Air Force. An Air Force should not be limited to the ground.”
Gunaratne noted, “We hope to use these aircraft to carry out maritime security and maritime survey plans. There are pirate activities in the ocean around us and there is also the issue of drug trafficking. From these aircraft we can concentrate on such matters. These aircraft also enable us to complete aerial reconnaissance of our territorial waters. We can also use these aircraft in disaster management.”
Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana said the addition of three aircraft enhances the power of the Sri Lanka Air Force.
The Air Force Commander also noted, “While we use these aircraft for our transportation activities, we hope to use them in our joint venture with the Sri Lanka Navy for maritime security and surveillance. We have also focused on using these aircraft to bring in the equipment we need in the event of a natural disaster from friendly countries as soon as possible and vice versa.”
Replying to a journalist, Air Marshal Pathirana said these planes were sent to Ukraine following a transparent tender criterion.
“It is not possible in Sri Lanka to carry out maintenance on these aircraft. The overhauling process consists of several stages. Although the Sri Lanka Air Force has the capacity to complete the first and second phases of the project, we need the assistance of a foreign country for the third phase. When choosing such a country, it is important to choose a country that manufactures this type of aircraft and a reputed company. We spent about US$ 7.5 million on this. It is a very reasonable price. These institutions were selected for this process through a very transparent and tender process. Another aircraft needs to be overhauled in this way.”
SLAF Spokesman Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe said the three AN-32B aircraft belonging to the Sri Lanka Air Force were sent to Ukraine in August last year to undergo repairs and a life extension.
The SLAF had sent a team to Ukraine to assist and supervise the overhauling process.
These aircraft which were inducted to the Sri Lanka Air Force in the year 1995 are the largest operational heavy transport aircraft at the moment. These aircraft played a vital role during the 30 year war by transporting military personnel, civilians, wounded personnel, essential good and munitions to and from the Northern and Eastern Theaters. With the return of these three aircraft the transport capabilities of the SLAF will increase by 75%.
These large aircraft are not only used for transport purposes but are also used for training missions as well. Further, there aircraft which are capable of trans- continental travel become vital when providing assistance to our friendly neighbors. The AN 32B was inducted to the SLAF in 1995 to replace the Avro HS 748 aircraft. The SLAF purchased four AN 32B aircraft and all of them were grounded. Sri Lanka is also expecting to send the remaining AN-32 to Ukraine for an overhaul.