Unit History: Royal Ceylon Air Force
The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is the aerial defence division and the youngest of the Sri Lankan Tri Forces. Founded in 1951 as the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), it relied on the British Royal Air Force for its earliest equipment, training, and commanders. The Air Force plays a major role in the ongoing war against LTTE. Although Sri Lanka is only a small island state, its Air Force has a long history of involvement in the ongoing civil war. A force commander leads the service and its operational headquarters are located in Colombo. The Sri Lanka Air Force has expanded to specialize mainly in providing air-support to ground forces, troop landing and carrying out air strikes on rebel held areas in the Northern and Eastern theater.
The Commander of the Air Force is the professional head of the Sri Lanka Air Force.
Early administration and training was carried out by RAF officers and other personal who where seconded to the RCyAF. The first aircraft of the RCyAF was the De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk used as basic trainers which was followed by Boulton Paul Balliol T.MK 2s and Airspeed Oxford MK 1s for advanced training of pilots and aircrew along with De Havilland Doves and De Havilland Herons for transport use provided by the British. First helicopters to be added to the service was the Westland Dragonfly. These were supplemented in the 1960s with various other aircraft most notably United States Bell Jetranger Helicopters and a Hindustan Pushpak gifted by India.
In 1959 for the first time jet aircraft were acquired which where De Havilland Vampires. However the RCyAF did not put them into operational use and soon replaced them with five Hunting Jet Provost obtained from the British, which were formed into the No. 5 Jet Squadron. These were used in combat during the 1971 Insurrection when, for the first time the Royal Ceylon Air Force went in to combat.
During this insurgency, the left-leaning Bandaranaike government turned to the Soviet Union for more sophisticated weaponry, and received five MiG-17F fighter bombers, a MiG-15 UTI Midget trainer, as well as two Ka-26 helicopters meant for search and rescue and casualty evacuation. The RAFs heavy transports also flew in six Bell 47-G helicopters purchased from the United States which were put in to combat as soon as possible after only five days of pilot training. Air Force troops joined in ground operations and when the insurgents surrendered after about a months fighting the SLAF was in charge of three, of the many rehabilitation camps setup for insurgents.
With the closure of Air Ceylon in 1978, its Avro 748 transport aircraft was taken over by the SLAF.
Because of a shortage of funds for military expenditures in the wake of the 1971 uprising, the No. 4 Helicopter Squadron began operating commercial transportation services for foreign tourists under the name of Helitours. In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700 personnel, including active reserves. The force had grown gradually during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and recruits in the 1960s.
By the early 1980s, the Provosts and all of the Soviet aircraft had been taken out of active service and were relegated to long-term storage, leaving the air force without any fighter/bomber capability.
Rapid growth began in the mid-1980s, when the Sri Lankan Civil War against Tamil separatists drew the service into a major, long-term security role. During Eelam War I, between 1983 and 1987, the force grew by nearly 50 percent.
As in the other services, a shortage of spare parts plagued maintenance efforts, forcing the service to send a number of aircraft to Singapore and elsewhere for repairs. After the purchase of equipment from Canada in 1986, the air force gained the capability to make structural repairs on its fleet of Bell helicopters, several of which had been damaged in operations against the Tamil separatists. Maintenance of electronic equipment was performed at the communications station at Ekala, in the north of Colombo District.