SLAF airborne commandos "Never Accept Defeat"

November 24, 2021

By Dishan Joseph

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has served the Motherland for seven decades. We often think of aircraft and pilots in the air defence role of the Air Force. However, the Air Force has its own formidable commandos who are able to fight in any terrain. In order to understand the role and task of these gallant paratroopers, I travelled to the SLAF Station Morawewa, located in the dense forestlands of the Eastern Province. This is a massive camp spread across 1,300 acres. The jungle terrain naturally creates the perfect training environment that simulates real life combat scenarios. When we talk about SLAF ground combat formations, we must remember the late Wing Commander Eksith Peiris who dedicated his entire career to augmenting this concept. This exceptional officer is venerated to this day for the services he rendered to the SLAF regiment.

The training wing of the Regiment Special Force (RSF) is located in a land area that is covered with dense thickets of trees, interlaced with streams and lakes. The SLAF Station in Morawewa is commanded by Group Captain Lalith Sugathadasa. As I reached the venue, aspiring commandos were engaged in training exercises. The present Commanding Officer of the Regiment Special Force is Wing Commander Priyadarshana Hettiarachchi and his deputy is Squadron Leader Romesh Bastian.

The officers and airmen of the RSF wear a distinct digital print camouflage uniform. According to these officers, the need for a specialised commando unit was felt after the LTTE attacked the Katunayake Airport in 2001. By July

         Air Force Commander Air Marshal   Sudarshana Pathirana
              Group Captain
             Lalith Sugathadasa
            Wing Commander
            Priyadarshana Hettiarachchi

2003, the SLAF had trained and fielded the Air Base Defence and Rescue Squadron (ABDR) which was the foundation for the future RSF. The pioneer squadron was based at the SLAF Hingurakgoda. Subsequently, in 2006, the ABDR was renamed as the Regiment Special Force (RSF) of the Sri Lanka Air Force. At present, the RSF operates with the strength of four squadrons with a fifth on the way. This new element will be known as the Anti- Terrorist Squadron.

The primary role of the Regiment Special Force is counter-attack, penetration, battlefield rescue (of downed SLAF pilots), insertion and extraction of airborne commandos. In addition to this, the RSF commandos also engage in the protection of VIPs when required and take part in air, sea and land-based rescue missions when the country faces unexpected natural disasters.

We walked into the training area where aspiring candidates were receiving their difficult training. The forest has its own natural threats in the form of harmful insects and snakes. According to Squadron Leader Bastian, those officers and airmen who apply to join the elite commando unit must first make it through a tough selection test that lasts 14 days. During these two weeks, RSF instructors observe the mental willpower and physical fitness of the men. This selection process filters the candidates who must now face rigorous training that will reshape them into airborne combatants. The basic course lasts for six months. During this time, the officers and airmen train together and are assigned a number.

Within days, they bond together, because when fighting in enemy areas, teamwork and unity are paramount to complete the given mission. In the first phase, the men engage in intense physical training, endurance marches through thick forests including river crossings, tactical training at night amidst rain and map-reading exercises. The recruits enhance their knowledge of weapons. By the time they wear the RSF badge, all commandos become qualified to use the T-56 rifle, SAR-21 assault rifle, micro Uzi, CZ- P10C pistol and Glock-17. In addition, they train in knife fighting and unarmed combat. The basic fighting formation of the RSF is the eight-man team.

The sun was intense as we navigated our way to the other areas of training. A robust sergeant showed me a vast collection of plants. The RSF team in Morawewa has created a plant nursery with 264 species of tropical plants. These plants are taken from forests across the island, giving the recruits an understanding of each plant. They are taught to identify poisonous plants. They also learn how to use indigenous plants to treat symptoms of bee stings and snake bites which they will face when engaged in real combat missions. RSF officers also teach trainee commandos about survival, and what kind of fruits can be eaten safely from the deep jungle. The collection of plants is the best I have seen among the Tri-Forces of Sri Lanka and it is a testament to the dedicated effort of the Sri Lanka Air Force to train its airborne warriors in every aspect.

Next I witnessed the “concealment” training methods of the RSF. Trainees are placed on treetops and in the ground, fully concealed and blending into the forest becoming almost invisible. The officers said that these men can remain concealed with limited amounts of water whilst eating high protein energy bars. They are trained to remain concealed for five days observing enemy movements or gathering information on a high profile enemy target. This kind of mental willpower and combat discipline requires nerves of steel. They are taught to survive in the jungle.

Another valuable skill taught is aircraft insertion and extraction. The aspiring commandos learn the art of rappelling from a hovering helicopter. The SLAF uses the Bell 212 and MI-17 for this training. This training is further augmented with Special Tactical Airborne Operations (STABO) and Special Insertion and Extraction (SPIE). RSF men engage in abseiling (using ropes) from a 60-feet tower. One of their special skills is Fast Roping. This is a stunning display of precision teamwork. The commandos are loaded into a helicopter. When the pilot positions the helicopter over the desired target area, 16 commandos descend like lightning from the sky (by rope) wielding their guns, reaching the target within seconds and unleashing a volley of automatic gunfire. The element of stealth and speed in this combat insertion is amazing. This is the finest military assault drill I have witnessed. It is a brilliant manifestation of the training and combat efficiency of the SLAF commandos.

The training is tough and serious. Live bullets are used in firing exercises. According to Wing Commander Hettiarachchi, all trainees must obtain a 60 percent pass mark in their exams to qualify. All trainees must become proficient in parachute jumps. They do five parachute jumps, during daylight and also at night. During their career, after doing 25 static parachute jumps, the commandos can go for advanced training and follow the Free Faller course and graduate to become parachute riggers.

Once they finish the basic six months course, they have to engage in three months of advanced training at the Sri Lanka Army Special Forces Training School (SFTS) located in the jungles of Maduru Oya. This course lasts between 45 to 60 days. After successful completion of training, the RSF men are assigned to their duty stations. As they progress in their work, they can apply and follow advanced courses to become snipers, jungle trackers and combat divers. The RSF comes under the Director Ground Operations (SLAF) Air Vice Marshal Janaka Amarasinghe. The men of the Regiment Special Force live by the motto “Never Accept Defeat”. They are a battle experienced world-class airborne commando force and an asset to the defence of Sri Lanka.

RSF officers and instructors

Ready for  aerial insertion


Courtesy - www.dailynews.lk