By Nisal Rukshan
The word „Air Mobile‟ gives a wider meaning when it is connected to military operations, correlating to different activities in battles, though it generally means the ability to mobilise in the air by means of aircraft, helicopters etc.
The Concept of Air Mobile was initiated by the US military as a sling load mission during the Korean War on September 13, 1951. Since then, the Air Mobile concept has been implemented by all militaries in the world as a versatile, credible and powerful military tool. The first recorded air mobile operation was conducted by 45 commandos and royal marines in Operation Musketeer on November 5, 1956 during the Suez Crisis.
The US military‟s first Air Mobile unit called 1st Cavalry Division proved the power of air mobile operations during the Vietnam War for the first time at the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 and achieved its highest results at Khe Sanh in 1968. At present, the air mobile forces in other countries are proficient in air assaults which require many numbers of troops and air assets and are popularly known as Air Assault Battalions and Brigades. During the 11 years of battlefield application in the Vietnam War, the Air Mobile Concept was tested and refined current air mobile tactics.
In the Sri Lankan context, the Air Mobile operation‟s maiden arrival was held with the raising of the Air Mobile Brigade of the Sri Lanka Army on May 1, 1994 in Vavuniya under the leadership of Brigadier H.N. Halangoda. Due to his commitments and contributions towards this establishment, he was renowned as the founding father of the Sri Lanka Air Mobile Brigade.
The aim of the establishment of the Air Mobile Brigade was to conduct special operations with the capability of rapid deployment by means of air mobility. It was specially designed by deviating from the ordinary infantry task and was formed to pose deterrence by the means of air mobility and to confront the isolated terrorist bases which were behind the LTTE forward defence lines. The support of the Sri Lanka Air Force was obtained, due to the unavailability of own air fleet to fulfil the requirement of mobility from the air. Also, the 1st Air Mobile Training Programme was held at the Air Force Base in Vavuniya. The battalions of 4 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (SLSR), 7 Gemunu Watch (GW), 1 Gajaba Regiment (GR) and 4 GR joined history as the first battalions which followed Air Mobile Training in Sri Lanka.
The troops of the Air Mobile Brigade are renowned for their proven bravery on the battlefield with the selfless sacrifices the Air Mobile troops have made in becoming a victorious Army by defeating relentless LTTE terrorism. The battles such as „Operation Eagle‟ in 1990, „Operation Balawegaya‟ in 1991, „Operation Riviresa‟ in 1995, „Operation Jayasikuru‟ in 1997, „Operation Kinihira‟ in 2000, „Operation Agnikheela‟ in 2001 and finally the „Humanitarian Operation‟ from 2006 to 2009 are some classic examples for the commitment of the Air Mobile Brigade. At the end of 1996, 3 Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI), 1 SLSR, 5 GW, 6 GR and 1 Vijayabhahu Infantry Regiment (VIR) also became members of the Air Mobile Brigade at different stages and had actively participated in all major operations conducted by the Sri Lanka Army for the freedom our Motherland.
After the Humanitarian Operation in 2009, various battalions were attached and certain were detached from the Air Mobile Brigade. With the end of the Humanitarian Operation, the Air Mobile Brigade changed its former objective and was diverted towards the nation-building and disaster management tasks under the direction of the 53 Infantry Division (RSF).
At present, the Air Mobile Brigade consists of five battalions, namely 24 SLLI, 12 SLSR, 5 GW, 3 GR and 1 VIR and is deployed at Velankulam, with 12 SLSR having relocated from its previous deployment in Embilipitiya.
Role of Air Mobile Brigade
The role of the Air Mobile Brigade is to harness the full potential for rapid deployment into swift action using helicopters in controlled, well-coordinated and decentralised operations to bridge the gap between the Infantry and Special Operation Force (SOF) as an intermediary,
characterised by a ready, reliable and a fully geared force, enforced with flexibility, innovation, audacity, and aggressiveness to face any spectrum of operations.
Even though all military establishments are vested with a primary task, depending on the uniqueness, they are also called to perform secondary tasks and maintain professionalism and long-lasting military traditions.
Through the past 27 years of the Air Mobile Brigade, 23 Brigade Commanders, including Defence Ministry Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne (Retd), and Defence Staff Chief, Army Commander and the Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19
Outbreak, General Shavendra Silva led the men towards military professionalism by following the superiors of their proud history. Presently, the Air Mobile Brigade is commanded by Colonel P.S.S. Sanjeewa.
Apart from the aforementioned general outline of the Air Mobile Brigade, the unique Air Mobile Warriors are updating their skills, knowledge and strategies in line with the modern world.
Further, through the analysis of Threats, Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities and forecasting the future of the whole establishment, the Sri Lanka Army recognised the constant need of adapting to the changes of different conditions and circumstances in the world. Hence, the organisation recently launched the „Sri Lanka Army Way Forward Strategy (SLAWFS) 2020-2025‟ policy under the direction and supervision of Army Commander General Shavendra Silva.
With the launching of the SLAWFS, the Air Mobile Brigade also changed its facet of operation by modernising through „Towards a Dazzling Future Air Mobile Brigade 2021-2026 (TDFAMB)‟ with the blessings of the Army Commander and the supervision of the Air Mobile Brigade Commander. The purpose of the TDFAMB 2021 - 2026 is to present a set of strategies to transform the Air Mobile Brigade into a fully-fledged force, readily available to bridge the gap between the Infantry and the SOF, groomed with specialised techniques of war-fighting and resilient capabilities, to conduct any spectrum of operations. The DFAMB 2021 - 2026 focuses on developing the skills and capacities and upgrading the weapons and equipment of the Air Mobile Brigade while ensuring its sustainability under the guidance of the Army Commander.
The „Enduring Core Values‟ introduced to the Air Mobile Brigade with the launch of the TDFAMB 2021 - 2026 was briefed by General Officer Commanding of 53 Division (Reserve Strike Force) Major General Nishantha Manage to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his visit to the Army Headquarters. The core values included patriotism, discipline, loyalty, integrity, honour, knowledge, courage, valour, unity and commitment.
Practising the aforementioned core values, presently, the troops of the Air Mobile Brigade have lifted their performance into high gear, giving a new facet diversifying into different fields. With all these well-equipped modifications, especially with the expansion of their skills in disaster relief assistance, the Air Mobile Brigade is ready to serve the Motherland aptly.
In the events of landslides, floods, rescue operations and bush fires, their contribution helps the nation immensely with the conceptual leadership of Army Commander General Shavendra Silva.
The Air Mobile Brigade envisages expanding their scope utilising their skills, maintaining a close coordination with the Sri Lanka Army Drone Regiment and the Sri Lanka Air Force to eradicate illegal drug menace, illicit liquor production, curbing cannabis cultivation, illegal felling of trees, illegal sand mining etc. and securing the country in all means.
Step by step, day by day, the Air Mobile Brigade is reaching a dazzling future with new doctrines like „Sri Lanka Army Way Forward Strategy 2020 – 2025‟, and „The Dazzling Future Air Mobile Brigade 2021 – 2026‟.
“Timely and necessary changes will make a better tomorrow. The Air Mobile Brigade of the Sri Lanka Army also needs to serve the nation with their fullest contribution together with skills, technology and competency”, said Army Commander General Shavendra Silva at the inauguration of „The Dazzling Future Air Mobile Brigade 2021 - 2026‟ at the Army Headquarters.
Courtesy - www.dailynews.lk