It is two days prior to the 73rd independence of Sri Lanka, No. 5 Jet Squadron, the cradle of fighter piloting in the Sri Lanka Airforce celebrates its 30th anniversary on February 1.
Commanding officer of the squadron, Wing Commander Roshan Perera said that the birth of his squadron is notable, surrounded by two central reasons.
The lack of an air defence fighter to nullify the operations and the violations of the Sri Lankan air space by the outside forces and the escalation of terror activities of the LTTE in the Jaffna Peninsula in 1987 were the most immediate reasons for the formation of the No. 5 Squadron.
Wing commander Perera said that with the emergence of terrorism, the Airforce was convinced that the older version of the Aircraft were not in a position to pose a threat to terrorists.
Wing Commander Perera said, “When it comes to air power, we say that air power has a characteristic of being able to give a physiological disorientation and an impact on what was necessary to wage a war”.
The modern jet era in the Airforce began on February 1, 1991, with the induction of two FD 5 aircraft, four F-7 BS aircraft and one FE-7 aircraft.
In 1991, the country did not have fighter pilots. The fighter pilots who had flown the Mig 15 and 17 were also not available at that time. The Airforce was required to convert the fighter pilots. Squadron Leader Harsha Abewickrama who eventually commanded the Airforce, Flight Lieutenant Priyantha Gunasinghe, who became a group captain, Flight Lieutenant Sudarshana Pathirana, by now the Commander of the Airforce, Flight Lieutenant Janaka Wijethilaka and Flying Officer Sanjeewa Hendawitharana, lately a group captain have been the live wire of the No. 5 Squadron whose service is a sine-qua-non for the security of the country’s air space.
Wing Commander Perera said, “As it is a novel perspective, there is a lot of tactics, including the jargon when it comes to fighter flying. They were new for them. But they managed to build it one by one.”
In 2000, F-7s were subjected to overhaul whereas Mig 27 aircraft were inducted on the No. 5 Squadron.
In the same year, F-7s were back in action while Migs were subjected to overhaul. In 2007, Migs were again back together with the F-7s where there was an issue in operating two platforms in one single squadron. In 2007, the F-7s together with the No. 5 Squadron were moved away and a new Squadron called ‘12 squadron’ was formulated by the Migs. Also in 2007, there was a need to buy the new version of F-7. F-7GS was bought.
Wing Commander Perera said that “F-7GS is a state-of-art aircraft which has a head-up display system, helmet mounted display system, having the capability of launching air-to-air missiles.”
From 2007, the No. 5 Squadron was expected to ensure the air defence of the country. During the humanitarian operation, aerial interception was also a task assigned to the Squadron. Squadron Leader Sampath Wickramarathna who has conducted most of the aerial interception is a notable member of the Squadron when the squadron was re-established as the air defence squadron.
Perera said, “The fighter pilots of the Airforce, whether you are an F-7 pilot, Kfir pilot or Mig 37 pilot, the No. 5 Squadron is a pillar behind the success of every operation. All pilots in the Airforce are moulded by the No. 5 Squadron.” The Squadron maintains 24/7 operational readiness to take down any intruder who would infiltrate Sri Lanka’s air space. It is the operational conversion unit of the Airforce when it comes with the fighter pilots. The No. 5 Squadron, in recognition of its gallant, courageous, heroic and exceptional service, will be decorated with presidential colours on March 5 on which the Airforce celebrates its 70th anniversary.
The No. 5 Squadron has generated 32 fighter pilots. Every fighter pilot is decorated with at least one single gallantry award. The Squadron has the highest number of ‘Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya’ accorded to fighter pilots who have flown F-7.
Wing Commander Perera has been decorated with seven gallantry medals which include two Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya, three Rana Wickrama Padakkama and two Rana Sura Padakkama. Perera has conducted over 250 operational missions during the humanitarian operation.