Contributions made by old Anandians in the fight against terrorism – Sri Lanka Air Force
Since times known, Anandians have been in the forefront in all battles whenever the national sovereignty has been threatened. Indeed, having had our fundamental learning curves upon the very same land from where Veediya Bandara departed to fight against the Dutch in Colombo, national patriotism is one of the key traits present in every Anandian’s arterys.
During Sri Lanka’s darkest hours in the post independence era, where the country faced imminent separation into two separate states, the proud and gallant spirit of Sri Lankans rose against all odds. Anandians were in the forefront of all corners in the battles against ruthless terrorism often sacrificing their lives in the lines of active duty, for they selflessly gave their today’s for our tomorrows.
The Sri Lanka Air Force contributed in numerous forefronts during all phases of the conflict often supporting the ground and naval forces in their marches forward. Since early times, the contribution of the SLAF has been pivotal in deciding victory or defeat whilst more or less being the lifeline to ground forces bringing them to life from death.
In formulating the country’s air strategy since 1983, the leadership that the SLAF received Air Vice Marshal Morris Fernando who served as the Director Aeronautical Engineering and Director Planning. A leading sports man Air Vice Marshal Channa Gunaratne who is a distinguished old Anandian provided invaluable guidance and leadership to the organization in his capacity as the Director General Engineering. He was also the officer who took over command as Base Commander, SLAF Base Katunayake soon after the base was attacked by the LTTE in 2001. Air Vice Marshal Lal Perera provided leadership in his capacity as Director Aeronautical Engineering a brilliant Aeronautical Engineer spear head his branch as a director contributed immensely during the 30 years of conflict. Air Commodore Ananda Samarakoon contributed as directed Aeronautical Engineering during the period of early 80’s. AVM Harsha Karrannagoda discharge his duties and Director Administration during the period of humanitarian operation where he contributed providing all required service support and General Administration.
Air Force research and development took a key step in development under the guidance of old Anandians Group Captain Vajira Perera and Squadron Leader Maithree Perera. Their efforts took the SLAF from strength to strength through their ingenuity and creativity.
One of the most significant contributions made by the SLAF during the 30 year long conflict was the rescue of besieged soldiers in the Jaffna fort in1991. The SLAF executed a daring operation codenamed “Operation Eagle”. The spearheading aircraft of the operation was a Bell 412 helicopter which was flown under the able hands of two old Anandians Squadron Leader Lasantha Waidyaratne and Flying Officer (Later Wing commander) Avindra Mirando. This operation was a phenomenal success and became the cornerstone in reversing the tide of the battle in favour of the armed forces.
One of the earliest old Anandian Air Force officers to lay his life in the lines of duty was Flight Lieutenant Kasun Kumaratunga. He was killed when his Bell 212 helicopter crashed in 1987 off Kimbulapitiya as he was returning after an operational mission in quelling the insurgency that prevailed at that time.
Another distinguished old Anandian, Wing Commander Janaka Wijetilleke made history when he became one of the first SLAF pilots to fly fast jets in 1991 mastering controls of the F 7 fighter jet. He later went on to fly Israeli built Kfir C 2 fighters making decisive contributions to the SLAF’s offensive action.
Wing Commander TCBJ Thibbotumunuwe was a veteran transport pilot who logged numerous flying hours keeping the logistic link to the peninsula alive. True to the spirit of an old Anandian he selflessly laid his life when the Y 8 aircraft he was flying came under enemy fire in 1995, plunging in to the water off Kankasanturai. Wing Commander Priyantha Weeraman, another distinguished old Anandian and a veteran helicopter pilot, also laid his life down when the Mi 17 helicopter he was flying was shot down in 1997.
Air Commodore Ravi Jayasinghe, was involved in the battle through many aspects. Having flown helicopters for a considerable period of time, he then moved on to fly fixed wing transports and reconnaissance platforms. Providing invaluable reconnaissance services during the humanitarian operation flying the Beechcraft B 200, Air Cdre Jayasinghe then went to take over duties as the Overall Operations Commander Air Defence. This was a time where the LTTE was terrorizing the nation through the employment of its light aircraft. Air Cdre Jayasinghe led the national air defence mechanism and SLAF was able to bring down the LTTE light aircraft in 2009.
Significant contributions were made by Squadron Leader Kapila Ratnasekara who was a veteran helicopter pilot. Group Captain Udeni Rajapakse, yet another distinguished product of our alma mater contributed in numerous ways. Initially having qualified as a transport pilot, Gp Capt Rajapakse then went on to fly Siai Marchetti and IA 58 Pucara ground attack aircraft. He escaped death when the Pucara he was flying exploded in mid air, and he made use of his ejection seat to land off the Kaudulla reservoir. Subsequently Gp Capt Rajapakse reverted to his role as a transport pilot flying all types of multi engine giants of the SLAF inventory.
Wing Commander Dhammika Weligodapola is an old anandian whose name will remain etched in history. Through his mastery of light combat aircraft, he went on to fly IA 58 Pucara ground attack aircraft during the height of Eelam War II and III. Through his daring and courageous flying, he scored many significant victories for the SLAF. He later went on to fly multi engine transports qualifying on almost all types.
During the mid 90’s the SLAF faced a severe shortage of pilots in its strength. This was mainly due to the high demand on operational flying as well as severe losses in the face of enemy fire. Distinguished old Anandians Group Captain Priyantha Weerasinghe and Wing Commander Duke de Zoysa were amongst those who raised their hands and volunteered for this dangerous task.
Wing Commander Wasantha Jayawardena is one old Anandian whose contribution will be had to match. He was a master of helicopters and was in the forefront of all combat support missions. He also overlooked the grooming of young pilots to fly helicopters in his capacity as a qualified helicopter instructor. His laurels were ably followed by Wing Commander Dhammika Dias who is one of two pilots in the SLAF to master all types of helicopters in its inventory rising on to become an instructor and an examiner on all types.
Contributing in his role as member of the aircrew at critical times was Group Captain Rohan Hemasinghe. He readily volunteered and flew as the load master on critical missions during hard times. For his actions he has been rewarded with medals of gallantry which is a rare achievement for an officer of his branch.
Air Cdre Channa Premarathen enlisted Air Force in air field construction branch contributed in runway and Civil Engineering Construction he became a Director Civil Engineering during the year 2011.
The recent past was highlighted by the contributions of an Old Anandian Squadron Leader Sudil Gamage, who actively contributed as a transport pilot flying Y 12 and Beechcraft aircraft. He later went on to mould aspiring aviators of the SLAF as a qualified flying instructor, a task which he fulfils to this day. Flight Lieutenant Kanchana Kodikara contributed decisively flying Mi 17 transport helicopters. Flight Lieutenant Shyam Ranasinghe made a key contribution in flying MiG 27 fighter jets. Incidentally, he was the only old Anandian to fly fighter jets during the humanitarian operation.
In formulating the national air defence mechanism, the SLAF had to start from scratch. The threat factor was immense and the pressure upon the SLAF was gigantic. Rising to this occasion the SLAF established a reckonable air defence setup. Involved in this process from day one was Squadron Leader Sajeendra Gunawardena who excelled in sports during his days at Ananda.
On the ground defence role, key contributions were made by Air Vice Marshal Kishan Yahampath. He was initially a squadron commander at Palaly during operation vadamarachchi, and he later went on to provide leadership to troops during operation Wanni Wickrama. He was the group commander SLAF group Puliyankulam in 1999 during the operation Jayasikuru. Soon after the Katunayake air base was attacked in 2001, AVM (then Wing Commander) Yahampath was nominated to be its ground defence officer as CO 26th Regiment Wing. Having gathered invaluable experience in the field of ground defence, AVM Yahampath held the office of Director Ground Operations since 2008 and held on to the appointment when hostilities ceased in 2009.He commanded over 19000 Regiment Air men during the period of Humentarian operation and his regiment troops were responsible for destroying an LTTE aircraft during their last attempt on Katunayake air base.
Group Captain Sujith Gunathilake also made significant contributions in the field of ground defence performing numerous command roles. Group Captain Priyanka Perera was another veteran ground defence officer who is also one of the earliest sky divers of the SLAF. Flight Lieutenant Prasanna Kuruppu was a bright officer in this branch, whose career was sadly shortened when he was injured during the war. Group Captain Harendra Perusinghe showed a lot of promise since early days of his career. . He later went on to hold many command appointments.
Group Captain Nissanka Jayawardane and Wing Commander Namal Pitigala being Administrative Officers made a significant contribution in the field of Administration and Organization during the period of conflict.
The above narrative included only a skeletal exposure of old Anadians who actively contributed in safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the island. Indeed, Ananda College has been the alma mater which has produced the most number of officers at any given time. Anandians proudly stood when peace dawned upon the country in 2009, having a total of 53 officers in the SLAF. Should there be a detailed analysis of all SLAF old anandians, the write up would go on to fill volumes. Nevertheless, all of their contributions were significant, decisive and truly Anandian in style, for the spirit of Ananda is always present in our blood. That was, is and will always continue to be the case whenever the nation calls.