Air Force launches The Aerial Tribute


The Aerial Tribute, the fourth Volume of the History of the Sri Lanka Air Force, was launched on Sunday at Ratmalana Air Base. The first copies of the book were presented to President, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa by the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama. The book was launched at a ceremony held at the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum. The Commander of the Air Force presented a copy to the Senior-most surviving past Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Paddy Mendis. Copies were also presented to Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya, Security Forces Commander Mullaithivu Major General Jagath Dias, and the Chief of Staff of the SLAF Air Vice Marshal Kolitha Gunathilaka as well as other distinguished invitees.AVM Gunatilleke (L) receives his copy from AM Abeywickrama
(Pic courtesy SLAF media)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Aerial Tribute: The Role of Air Power in Defeating Terrorism in Sri Lanka is the first comprehensive account of eelam war IV regarding the most successful air campaign during the conflict.

Authored by Nirosha Mendis, a medical practitioner, 350-page book dealt with the extremely difficult circumstances under which the SLAF conducted the campaign. The well researched book wouldn’t have been a reality if not for SLAF Chief Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama, the then Director Operations/Air Operations inquired from Dr. Mendis whether he could accept the challenging task.

Dr. Mendis, the incumbent Director of the National Council for Mental Health launched The Aerial Tribute at Air Force Museum at Ratmalana Air Base on Sunday night on the invitation of AM Abeywickrama. Addressing the gathering, the outgoing Air Chief briefly explained how he put together a team to undertake the project and his faith in the author whom he knew for many years. A smiling Abeywickrama recalled school boy Nirosha staying at China Bay air base at the onset of eelam conflict in the 80s.

AM Abeywickrama will relinquish office at the end of this month. He will be succeeded by AVM Kolitha Gunatilleke. During eelam war IV, Gunatilleke succeeded Abeywickrama as Director Air Operations on Nov 1, 2008 when the then AVM Abeywickrama was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff at a crucial stage of the multi-pronged combined forces offensive directed at LTTE bases in the Vanni.

Commenting on the role played by the then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, commander of the SLAF during eelam war IV, the author asserted: "Throughout the sustained air campaign, he strategized with his senior commanders, providing ‘opinion’ and encouraging ‘consensus’ for effective and efficient deployment of resources to ensure success. ‘Team’ and ‘Team work’ were the encouraged principles, with appreciation and reward processes incorporated into the system."

Group Captain (Retd) Sajeewa Hendavitharana, the only other speaker at the rather unusual book launch sans a chief guest, emphasized the necessity to clearly record the conflict to ensure that future generations would know why the Sri Lankan state had to wage a war to restore peace. Hendavitharana, the only officer to command four different flying formations, namely the Advanced Flying Training Squadron, Flying Training Wing, F7 squadron as well as MiG 27 squadron recalled the sacrifices made by the service, extreme difficulties experienced during the conflict, particularly due to constraints in acquiring what the SLAF needed.

Hendavitharana recalled Group Captain Sudarshana Pathirana launching the first 1,000 kg bomb at an LTTE target in the Eastern theatre of operations at the onset of the offensive. The Aerial Tribute detailed the air attack mounted on August 28, 2006 by Pathirana, Commanding Officer of the No 10 jet squadron (Kfirs) and Squadron Leader Sampath Wickramaratne. They targeted an LTTE command and communication facility situated approximately 10 kms southeast of Seruwila. Pathirana directed one 1,000 kg Mk 84 bomb while his wingman, Wickramaratne launched two 500 kg Mk 83 bombs.

The veteran said that he was recently taken aback when two young aviators asked him why the government had to take on the LTTE. Having explained his encounter with the young men, Hendavitharana recollected the sacrifices made by the SLAF during the conflict. He placed the number of AF officers and men of killed at 443, including 42 pilots while 33 air assets too, were lost. The officer asserted that no other air force had suffered as much as the SLAF due to terrorism.

Those wanting to know hitherto unknown aspects and details of air operations during the conflict could learn a lot from The Aerial Tribute, the first book of its kind. The Army and the Navy are yet to come out with their versions. Dr. Mendis dealt with a range of issues from gradual increase of air power with the acquisition of a range of aircraft as well as the deployment of LTTE air assets. The book also contained scores of exclusive pictures taken by SLAF officers over the past three decades and images taken by surveillance aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Most importantly, Dr. Mendis dealt briefly but separately with senior officers who spearheaded the campaign at different levels.

The proceeds from the sale of The Aerial Tribute will go to the Command Welfare Fund of the SLAF.

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