Vanni east landscape transformed with new airfield, major SLAF station


Shamindra Ferdinando reporting from Iranamdu

The Chinese-built MA 60 passenger plane carrying President Mahinda Rajapaksa landed on the newly constructed SLAF runway at Iranamadu, the heartland of clandestine LTTE operations during eelam war IV, on the morning of June 15, marking a new chapter in post-war development in the Vanni mainland.

The SLAF took delivery of the twin engined turboprop MA 60 aircraft on Sept. 30, 2011.

The President was welcomed by SLAF chief, Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama. EPDP leader Douglas Devananda and Northern Province Governor, retired Major General G. A. Chandrasiri too, were present. Having unveiled a plaque at the airfield to mark his historic visit there, the President took part in a series of events in the region.

Accompanying the President was Army Commander, General Jagath Jayasuriya. It was the army commander’s first visit to the former operational areas since Friday’s announcement of his promotion as well as the appointment of Major General Daya Ratnayake as his successor with effect from August 1.

Spanning a length of 1,500 metres and a width of 25 metres, the runway could accommodate even a fully loaded C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the largest in service with the SLAF.

In accordance with the overall security strategy in the Vanni mainland, the SLAF has built a major facility encompassing the runway, making it the main base in the Vanni east. The SLAF station at Iranamdu comprised pre-fabricated buildings supplied by China since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. The transformation of Iranamdu had been gradual, with Wing Commander Crishantha Manamperi being the incumbent Commanding Officer there.

The LTTE’s largest airstrip was meant to bring in plane loads of arms in case high profile SLN operations on the high seas caused the destruction of its ‘floating arsenals.’ The Tigers’ plan went awry.

The SLAF utilised its expertise to complete the job which would enable the service to take on even bigger tasks.

SLAF spokesman Air Commodore Andy Wijesuriya told The Island that the LTTE had launched the runway project years back, even before the outbreak of major battles in August 2006.

The LTTE had built a smaller runway a little distance away from the main landing strip, which Air Marshal Abeywickrema said could even accommodate a jet in an emergency. The SLAF chief was responding to a query by The Island.

The writer had the opportunity to fly in to the smaller airfield earlier in the day and move overland to the newly built runway. At the edge of the runway, the wreckage of an SLAF Mi 24, destroyed during the conflict, can be seen.

It is believed that the LTTE unit which caused immense damage in a daring raid on the SLAF base at Anuradhapura during the fourth week of Oct. 2007, had rehearsed at Iranamdu, probably on the smaller runway. Even the LTTE’s fixed wing aircraft involved in the Anuradhapura attack had been launched from one of the airstrips at Iranamadu.

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