By Asiri Fernando/www.defenceasia.blogspot.com
Colombo, June 13: Three Antonov AN-32B aircraft of the No.02 Squadron, Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) returned home safely last Friday (11 June) evening, after being overhauled in Ukraine at a cost of USD 7.5 Million.
According to the SLAF, the return of the three AN32Bs revives their fixed-wing airlift capabilities by 75%. A group of twenty-eight aircrew, led by Group Captain Pradeep Piyarathne ferried the three aircraft back to Katunayake air force base, flying 22 hours, covering a distance of 5078 Nautical Miles and making eight stops, a first for the force.
The three aircraft, registration numbers SCM860, 863 and 869 were welcomed with a customary ‘Water Salute” from the SLAF fire tenders on arrival ay Katunayake.
“Today is a special day for the Air Force and the Ministry of Defence. These aircraft were grounded awaiting overhaul for seven years” Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne told the press at Katunayake, after welcoming the three returning transport aircraft.
The overhaul of the three aircraft was awarded to 410 Repair Plant under the Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine, following a transparent tender process and cost US $ 7.5 Million, SLAF Commander, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana said. According to AM Pathirana, the three will be utilised for Maritime Surveillance in coordination with the Navy and for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions in addition to transport duties.
The SLAF is focused on maintaining existing aircraft and improving operational readiness to respond to natural and man-made disasters which are occurring at an increasing frequency, AM Pathirana stated, pointing out that the revived airlift capability enables the force to deploy supplies and personnel as needed across the country and the region if required.
“Sometimes, we need to get assistance, supplies or equipment from overseas during emergencies, having a robust airlift capability means we bring in assistance quickly” he opined.
“We have a fourth AN32 in need of an overhaul and we plan to get that finalised soon,” AM Pathirana told Defence Asia. The SLAF is also evaluating proposals to overhaul 2 C-130K aircraft in the inventory, the SLAF Commander stated. Most of the SLAF fleet has remained grounded for many years, with budget constraints hampering maintenance and overhaul efforts.
The SLAF is also in discussions with India and the U.S. to acquire several purpose equipped Maritime Patrol Aircraft as part of Sri Lankan efforts to strengthen its naval and aviation capabilities in response to growing narcotic and arms trafficking in the Indian Ocean.
A series of maritime emergencies involving shipping around the island during the recent past has also highlighted capacity and capability gaps in the Air Force, Coast Guard and the Navy as key first responders to such incidents.
The AN32 aircraft entered service with the SLAF in 1995 and played a pivotal role in maintaining an airbridge to the strategically important Jaffna peninsula and carried personnel, supplies, the wounded and civilians to many parts of the country during the Eelam Wars which ended in 2009.
|The 28 member crew that ferried the three aircraft more than 5,000 nautical miles to Sri Lanka, a first for the force. Pic – Asiri Fernando|