Sri Lanka Air Force

The Sri Lanka Air Force is the air arm and the youngest of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces. It was founded in 1951 as the Royal Ceylon Air Force with the assistance of the Royal Air Force. The SLAF played a major role throughout the Sri Lankan Civil War. The SLAF operates more than 160 aircraft and has a projected trained strength of 27,400 airmen and 1,300 officers, who are from both regular and reserve service. The Sri Lanka Air Force has expanded to specialise mainly in providing air-support to ground forces, troop landing, and carrying out air strikes on rebel-held areas in the Northern and Eastern theatres, but is also capable of high- and low-level air defence.
The Commander of the Air Force is the professional head of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Mission statement

The mission statement of the Sri Lanka Air Force is
The Vision of the Sri Lanka Air Force is


Although Ceylonese had served in the Royal Air Force and the government of Ceylon adopted the No. 102 Squadron RAF, no air units were formed as part of the Ceylon Defence Force. The newly established Dominion of Ceylon, under its first Prime Minister, D. S. Senanayake began establishing its armed forces. The need for an air force was identified in its defence policy and the Air Force Act was passed in parliament in 1951 in order to establish an air force for the new nation.

Royal Ceylon Air Force

As such the Royal Ceylon Air Force was formed on 2 March 1951 with RAF officers and other personnel seconded to the RCyAF. Ceylonese were recruited to the new RCyAF and several Ceylonese who had served with the RAF during world war 2 were absorbed in the force. Initial objective was to train local pilots and ground crew, early administration and training was carried out by exclusively by RAF officers and other personnel on secondment. The first aircraft of the RCyAF were de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunks used as basic trainers to train the first batches of pilots locally while several cadets were sent to Royal Air Force College Cranwell. These were 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, all provided by the British. By 1955 the RCyAF was operating two flying squadrons based at RAF Negombo. The first helicopter type to be added to the service was the Westland Dragonfly.
Following Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike's negotiated the closure of British air and naval bases in Ceylon in 1956, the RCyAF took over the former RAF stations; Katunayake and China Bay, becoming RCyAF operational stations while ancillary functions were carried out at Diyatalawa and Ekala. The RAF headquarters, Air HQ Ceylon, was disbanded on 1 November 1957. However RAF officers remained with the RCyAF till 1962.
In 1959 de Havilland Vampire jet aircraft were acquired. However, the RCyAF did not put them into operational use and soon replaced them with five Hunting Jet Provosts obtained from the British, which were formed into the Jet Squadron. These were supplemented in the 1960s with various other aircraft, most notably American Bell JetRanger helicopters and a Hindustan HUL-26 Pushpak given by India. The force had grown gradually during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and recruits in the 1960s. By 1970 the Provosts were in storage.

1971 Insurrection

The Royal Ceylon Air Force first went into combat in 1971 when the Marxist JVP launched an island-wide insurrection on April 5. The Ceylon Armed Forces were caught off guard; police stations island-wide and the RCyAF base at Ekala were attacked in the initial wave. Responding rapidly the RCyAF deployed its limited aircraft, at first to resupply besieged police stations and military outposts and patrol around major cities. The Jet Provosts were taken out of storage and put into service within three days, carrying out attacks on insurgents. During this insurgency the left-leaning Bandaranaike government turned to the Soviet Union for more sophisticated weaponry, and received five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17F fighter bombers and a MiG-15 UTI trainer, as well as two Kamov Ka-26 helicopters meant for search and rescue and casualty evacuation. The RAF's heavy transports also flew in six Bell 47G helicopters purchased from the United States, which were put into combat as soon as possible after only five days of pilot training. Air Force personnel joined in ground operations, and when the insurgents surrendered after about a month's fighting the RCyAF was in charge of three of the many rehabilitation camps setup for insurgents.

Sri Lanka Air Force

With Ceylon becoming a republic in 1972, the Royal Ceylon Air Force changed its name to the Sri Lanka Air Force long with all insignia. Because of a shortage of funds for military expenditure in the wake of the 1971 insurrection, the No. 4 Helicopter Squadron began operating commercial transport services for foreign tourists under the name of Helitours. On March 31, 1976 the SLAF was awarded the President's Colour. That same year SLAF detachments, which later became SLAF stations, were established at Wirawila, Vavuniya and Minneriya.
With the closure of Air Ceylon in 1978, its Hawker Siddeley HS 748 transport aircraft was taken over by the SLAF. By the early 1980s the Provosts and all of the Soviet aircraft had been taken out of active service and placed in long-term storage, leaving the air force without any fighter/bomber capability.

Sri Lankan Civil War

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. In 1982 the SLAF reactivated airfields at Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Koggala and Sigiriya that had been disused since World War II, all later becoming SLAF Stations. During the First Eelam War between 1983 and 1987, the force grew by nearly 50 percent. In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700 personnel, including active reserves.
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.
After the 1983 riots, the government worked rapidly to expand the SLAF inventory, relying largely on sources in Italy, Britain, and the United States. Because of tight budget constraints, the SLAF was compelled to refit a number of non-combat aircraft for military uses in counter-terrorism operations against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists. From the period 1983 to 1985, the Air Force acquired 11 Bell 212 helicopters, four Bell 412 helicopters, three SIAI Marchetti SF.260s, two Cessna 337s, one Hawker Siddeley HS 748 and two Beechcraft Super King Airs. By 1985, nine more Bell 212s were added to the fleet, along with four Bell 412s. The 412s along with the SIAI Marchetti SF.260 aircraft advanced the attack capabilities of the SLAF. Central in the government's security efforts were six SIAI Marchetti SF.260TP turboprops which were used for rocket attacks and strafing. Additionally, the air force, with the help of Heli Orient of Singapore, equipped twelve Bell 212 and Bell 412 helicopters to serve as gunships and as transport vehicles for highly successful commando assault operations. The air force had a fleet of approximately eighty aircraft, of which sixty-four were reported to be operational in early 1988.
Government forces reportedly also used helicopters on bombing missions. A more effective bombing capability was provided by a small fleet of Chinese Harbin Y-12 turboprop transport aircraft. These were equipped with bomb racks that had been fitted to carry up to 1,000 kilograms of fragmentation and anti-personnel bombs. Transport, training, and surveying functions were carried out by a variety of Cessna and de Havilland aircraft. In 1987 during the Vadamarachchi Operation the air force mustered one HS 748, two Y-12s and one de Havilland Heron, all configured as improvised bombers. In 1987 the air force acquired Shaanxi Y-8s and would later use them for bombing, until 1992 when one Y-8 crashed during a bombing mission, when all bombing using transport aircraft were stopped.
On 3 September 1987 a Women's Wing was formed and located in Colombo. The first CO was Air Cdre D.S.G. Vithana. The Women's Wing was set up to maintain and update all records pertaining to female officers and airwomen, prepare promotional schedules, annual assessments, issue identity cards, etc.
To increase its attack capability, in 1991 the SLAF acquired four F-7 Skybolts, three FT-7s and two Shenyang J-5s from China. Later in 1993 the first of three Mil Mi-17 helicopter transports were acquired along with four FMA IA 58 Pucarás for ground attack. These proved to be effective, but three of the Pucarás were lost, two to surface-to-air missiles launched by the LTTE. The sole remaining Pucará was retired in 1999 due to lack of spare parts. In 1995 Mil Mi-24 gunships were acquired for close air support for the army and by 2001 Mil Mi-35s were added to the fleet.
In 1996 the SLAF acquired seven IAI Kfirs from Israel and a further nine of these aircraft had been added to the inventory by 2005. This included four C.2s and four C.7s in 2001. Currently the SLAF operates two C.7s, eight C.2s and two TC.2s. The SLAF used these Kfirs to launch attacks against Tamil separatist targets in rebel-controlled areas of the island.
In 2000 new aircraft were acquired; apart from the addition of Kfir C.7s and Mi-35s, these included six Mikoyan MiG-27 dedicated ground attack aircraft, a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23UB trainer and two Lockheed C-130 Hercules for heavy transport. Six K-8 Karakorum trainers were soon bought from China, creating No. 14 Squadron to train pilots for the newly expanded fleet of jets.
On 24 July 2001, thirteen aircraft including two Kfir jet fighters, one Mi-24 helicopter gunship and one MiG-27 jet fighter, were destroyed in the pre-dawn attack by the LTTE on SLAF Katunayake air base, part of Bandaranaike International Airport about 35 km north of Colombo. Three military training aircraft and five civilian jets were also among the destroyed aircraft. Many of these aircraft were later replaced. Sri Lanka's international airport has remained on alert for a repeat of the 2001 attack, with severe restrictions on the number of people allowed into the terminal buildings. Huge walls were built around the terminals and the control towers to prevent impact from car bomb attacks, and many sentries were placed along the approach roads to the facility. All airports including the international airport are heavily guarded by members of the SLAF Regiment. In 2006 four MiG-27s were bought from Ukraine to replace two lost in crashes and the one lost in the attack on the airport.
Since the start of the civil war the SLAF used its combat aircraft in a ground-attack role to attack LTTE targets in the then LTTE-controlled areas in the northern and eastern parts of the island. Following confirmation that the LTTE was using several light weight aircraft in 2006, the SLAF expanded its air defence capabilities which had been neglected for years. Extensive air defence radar network was established and ground-based air defence strengthened. Airborne interception of the LTTE light aircraft were developed using both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft until dedicated interceptors were acquired.
During the 2007–2009 the LTTE launched several attacks using light aircraft on Colombo, SLAF Katunayake and several other locations with superficial damage. In the early hours of October 22, 2007 a ground attack by the LTTE on SLAF Anuradhapura at Saliyapura, which was supported briefly by its air wing, resulted in the destruction of eight aircraft with several others damaged. The attack only affected the SLAF's training element. Early in 2008 the air force received six F-7Gs, these are primarily used as interceptors and are attached to No.5 Jet Squadron.
In October 2008 the air force claimed its first air-to-air kill, when it reported that one of its
Chengdu F-7G interceptors shot down a Zlín Z 43 of the LTTE air wing when it attempted to attack a military base in Vavuniya. In the last stages of the civil war the SLAF flew its highest number of sorties providing close air support of ground and naval forces and carried out pinpoint bombing on identified targets. It moved many of its units including fighter jets to forward air bases to increase the number of sorties.

Post war

Following the end of the civil war the number of sorties flown were reduced. The air force began utilising its fix wing and rotary wing transport aircraft for civilian transport by reforming the civilian domestic airline Helitours. It also began undertaking international flights and deployments as part of humanitarian and UN peacekeeping operation.
In 2014, the SLAF deployed a contingent of three Mi-17 helicopters with support personnel and equipment designated No. 62 Helicopter Flight to the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad consisting of 122 personal. This was followed by second contingent three Mi-17 helicopters and 81 personal to United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
In December 2014, SLAF C-130 of the No. 2 Heavy Transport Squadron flew a special humanitarian operation transporting essential spares and accessories for repair of the desalination facility in Male from Singapore. The breakdown of the desalination facility resulted in a desperate shortage of drinking water in Male and the equipment for repair could not be flown in commercial flights, resulting in the Maldivian government requesting aid from the government of Sri Lanka. In April 2015, following the earthquake in Nepal the Sri Lankan government responded by deploying relief contingents from the armed services including teams from the air force. These teams were airlifted to Nepal by a SLAF C-130 of the No. 2 Heavy Transport Squadron, which was followed by other flights carrying in aid supplies. This was the first time a SLAF aircraft has been deployed on a rescue mission to a foreign country. This was followed by another humanitarian flight to Pakistan following earthquakes. In 2016, SLAF C-130 Hercules carried out resupply missions to its detachments based in Central African Republic and South Sudan.
In the years that followed the war, the SLAF began a program of upgrading its air fleet and looking for replacements for ageing aircraft. In 2011, two Xian MA60 passenger transport aircraft were purchased for the air force operated Helitours and two more Bell 412 have been purchased in addition to the eight already in service. In addition 14 Mi-171 helicopters are to be purchased from Russia. That same year it grounded its Kfir of the No. 10 Fighter Squadron following a mid-air collision that resulted in the loss of two Kfirs. On 13 February 2012, one MiG-27 crashed while on a training mission, the pilot ejected. On 12 December 2014, an Antonov An-32 of the No. 2 Heavy Transport Squadron crashed whilst on a routine flight.
By 2009 SLAF operated three FT-7, three F-7BS, six F-7G, two Kfir TC.2s, two Kfir C.7s, eight Kfir C.2s, seven MiG-27s and one MiG-23UB trainer. By 2017 the Migs and Kfirs have been withdrawn as only one Kfir out of seven still available was serviceable and the seven surviving Mig23/27 aircraft were not operational. Two J7GS were recently seen to be operational during the 66th Anniversary of the Sri Lankan Air Force in March 2017. A single J7GS and J7BS were recently overhauled in China, and CATIC and the air force additionally overhauled an FT7 and another J7GS at the recently opened SLAF overhaul facility. The aircraft overhaul wing was opened as part of a joint venture between the air force and CATIC with a plan to overhaul all F7 aircraft in service. In 2017, the air force was deployed in force to assist civilian authorities during the 2017 Sri Lanka floods. To carryout search and rescue operations the air force deployed seven Mi-17 helicopters, three Bell-212 helicopters and one Bell-412 helicopters. During the relief operations one of the air force's Mi-17 crashed landed without any casualties. In December 2017, Janes reported that the Sri Lankan government was in talks with IAI for the upgrade and return to service of five of the grounded Kfir aircraft. Meanwhile, a single Kfir C2 and a single Kfir C7 have been preserved for display. In 2018 May, six brand-new PT-6 training aircraft were accepted by the SLAF from AVIC Hongdu in Nanchang, China. These aircraft will be utilised by the No 1 Flight Training Wing at the SLAF Academy.

Major combat operations

The Air Force has supported the Sri Lanka Army in all major operations undertaken by them;


Air Force Headquarters

The professional head of the air force is the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Sumangala Dias who reports directly to the Minister of Defence. The Commander of the Air Force exercises operational and administrative control of the air force from Air Force Headquarters, SLAF Colombo.
;Board of Directors
The Board of Directors numbers 13;

Zonal Commands

The air force has four commands known as zonal commands, each under the control of an air officer for command and administrative control. The zonal commands control all flying squadrons, aircraft and air defences; zonal Commanders are responsible for air and ground operations that have been decided upon by the Directorate of Operations at Air Force HQ.
;Four Zonal Commands
Sri Lanka Air Force no 3 Air defence radar squadron using 4 Indian made Indra Mark II 2D Radar Systems and also Sri Lanka air force has Chinese JY-11 low/medium altitude 3D surveillance radars and CETC YLC-18 3D Radar. The Sri Lanka Air Defence Command, based at SLAF Katunayake, is the SLAF command responsible for co-ordination of air and ground units to maintain integrated national air defence. National Air Defence System's main radar station situated at the Pidurutalagala tallest mountain in Sri Lanka, at 2,524 m.

Flying Squadrons

Current inventory

Future equipment

;Multi-role fighter
With the end of the civil war, the SLAF changed its priorities and set a long-term goal of modernising its aircraft and developing its air defence capability.
There have been claims that SLAF was looking for a replacement for its Kfirs and MiG-27s.
In 2013 Pakistan offered the PAC JF-17 Thunder aircraft to several countries including Sri Lanka. In 2016 the Sri Lankan Government gave the green light to a programme to procure multirole combat aircraft. The programme, featuring the acquisition of between 8–12 aircraft, will be pursued through a government-government basic agreement. In December 2016, then Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said Sri Lanka received offers from China, India, Sweden and Russia and they are still in progress to take final decision.
;Reconnaissances and patrol
The SLAF also hopes to expand its maritime patrols with long-range aircraft suited for the purpose, and re-establish No. 3 Maritime Squadron. To this end it is looking at procurement of a dedicated maritime patrol aircraft, with attention given the possibility of acquiring the Lockheed P-3 Orion with assistance from Japan. In April 2019, it was reported that India was considering transferring a single Dornier Do 228 reconnaissance aircraft.
The SLAF developed its own R&D program to develop UAVs. In 2018 it planned to purchase new UAVs at a cost of Rs 6.2 billion.
The SLAF has been considering increasing its fleet of transport helicopters with new purchases of 10–14 Mi-171SH, 2 Bell 412s and 2 Bell 206s. These are intended for flight training, VIP transport and overseas deployments for UN peace keeping operations.

Current deployments

As of present, most of the Sri Lankan Air Force is deployed for domestic defensive operations, while a limited foreign deployment is maintained.


Under the guidance of the British Royal Air Force, flight training was first offered to Royal Ceylon Air Force pilots at RAF Station Negombo, a RAF airfield at Katunayake, in 1952. In addition, a number of cadet officers received flight training at the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell, in Lincolnshire, England. After the British withdrew from their military facilities in Veylong in 1967, No. 1 Squadron was established at SLAF China Bay in Trincomalee. With the increase in Tamil separatist activities in the mid-1980s, the air force stepped up its training activities, bringing in foreign pilots to assist in the helicopter training program.
General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University formed in 1981 and situated in Ratmalana, fourteen kilometres south of Colombo, is Sri Lanka's only university specialising in defence studies. Each year, approximately fifty cadets from all three services are admitted to the university to participate in a three-year program of academic work and basic training.
Senior officers of the ranks of Squadron Leader and Wing Commander follow the Command and Staff Course at the Defence Services Command and Staff College at Batalanda, Makola which was established in 1997 as the Army Command and Staff College or at the SLAF Junior Command & Staff College at SLAF China Bay in Trincomalee. In addition KDU conducts Masters Of Science degree for the officers of air force. The air force continuous to send its senior officers for overseas training, specially for defense college.
Basic officer training is carried out at the Air Force Academy at SLAF China Bay in Trincomalee. The academy offers a two-year program of basic flight training and a variety of specialised courses. Pilot training was carried out at SLAF Anuradhapura by No. 1 Flying Training Wing using Cessna 150s for basic training and Nanchang CJ-6 aircraft for intermediate training. This has since been moved to SLAF China Bay. Advanced jet training is carried out by No. 14 Squadron in K-8 Karakorums also based at SLAF China Bay. Specialised training for different types of aircraft is carried out by the respective Squadrons; this includes F-7 Skybolt, Kfir TC.2 and MiG-23UB aircraft used for this purpose by No. 5 Jet Squadron, No. 10 Fighter Squadron and No. 12 Squadron respectively at SLAF Katunayake. For training of transport pilots, Harbin Y-12s of No. 8 Light Transport Squadron are used; Bell 206s are used for helicopter training.
Initial Ground Combat Training for both officers and other ranks of both regular and volunteer forces, are carried out separately at SLAF Diyatalawa in the garrison town of Diyatalawa, it also conducts advanced training for SLAF regiment officer cadets. Following training at SLAF Diyatalawa, general duties branch officer cadets are sent to the Air Force Academy for flight training, and airmen and airwomen are sent to Advanced and Specialised Trade Training School for specialised training in different trades. Air traffic controllers receive schooling at special facilities in Colombo as well as officer cadets from other branches. In addition, approximately twenty-five officers a year receive advanced training abroad, most commonly in Britain, Indian Air Force and, in recent years, at the United States Air Force Academy.
;Training establishments
;Training Squadrons
The Sri Lanka Air Force Regiment is a ground combat corps within the Sri Lanka Air Force, responsible for capturing and defending airfields and associated installations. Effectively, its members are the SLAF's soldiers. SLAF Regiment is responsible for protecting all its airfields and installations using infantry and light armoured units. Ground-based air defence of vital military and civil installations is carried out by this Regiment.

SLAF Regiment Special Force

Regiment Special Force is an elite Special Forces unit of the Sri Lanka Air Force, part of the SLAF Regiment. It provides highly effective land-based defence and beyond-forward-defence-line assault capabilities.

SLAF Special Air Borne Force

The Special Airborne Force is an elite Airborne forces unit of the Sri Lanka Air Force, part of the SLAF Regiment. It provides highly effective air assault capabilities and VVIP protection. Formed out of the Administrative Regiment Branch in 1989 by Air Vice Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe, it initially under took counter insurgency operations during the 1987–1989 JVP insurrection and thereafter in the Sri Lankan Civil War for VIP protection under the Chief Provost Marshal, until it was transferred under the command of Directorate Of Ground Operations.

Air Force Police

Air Force Police is responsible for maintaining discipline and enforcement of law and order within the SLAF and its establishments. Members of the AFP are distinguished by their white-topped caps and red 'AFP' flashes on the sleeve of their uniforms.


The Sri Lanka Air Force has launched domestic flight routes to provide a service to the people travelling to Jaffna in the north, Trincomalee in the north east, and to Seegiriya. As the SLAF is not a commercial organisation this aviation service was mainly built up as a non-profit public service. Helitours has been in operation since 1983 but due to the civil war operations were restricted. The SLAF is once again launching frequent flights and besides Helitours, it is also operating charter flights to give the people a further choice and reliable service.
Currently Harbin Y-12 fixed-wing aircraft are being used for passenger transportation. An Antonov An-32 will also be in operation in the near future to provide more capacity along with six Xian MA60s. All the charter flights are commenced from Ratmalana Air Force Base.

Air Force museum

The Sri Lanka Air Force museum is the only national museum dedicated entirely to aviation and the history of the Sri Lanka Air Force. The museum was first established in 1993 as the Aircraft Preservation and Storage Unit at SLAF Ratmalana and was reopened on 5 November 2009 after refurbishment. The museum exhibits historic aircraft, vehicles, uniforms and weapons. The museum consists of the main hangar, outdoor exhibits and hangar numbers 1, 2 and 3.


Parama Weera Vibhushanaya recipients

The Parama Weera Vibhushanaya is the highest award for valour awarded in the Sri Lankan armed forces. Air Force recipients include;
Over 23,790 Sri Lankan armed forces personnel were killed since beginning of the civil war in 1981 to its end in 2009, this includes air officers killed in active duty. 659 service personnel were killed due to the second JVP insurrection from 1987 to 1990. 53 service personnel were killed and 323 were wounded in the first JVP insurrection from 1971 to 1972. Notable fallen members includes;
The first female officers to join the air force were in 1972, to the Volunteer Air Force, today women are recruited to both the regular and volunteer forces as both officers and airwomen to the SLAF Women's Wing. However, there are no female pilots in the air force. Although female officers are not able to join the general duties pilot branch, they can join any other branch, including the SLAF Regiment and the Air Force Police.