President Maithripala Sirisena appointed Kapila Jayampathy as the new Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) after the retirement of Gagana Bulathsinhala. Jayampathy has an illustrious career in the Air Force which boasts of many triumphs. He was also an active officer during the historic victory against the LTTE.
He served as the Base Commander in China-Bay and as the Commandant of the Air Force Academy when it was upgraded and renamed. He also holds the reputation of being a brave and a thinking pilot and was also the Director Operations of the Army.
Jayampathy was the first pilot to be injured in battle against the LTTE. He can recall how he once flew back to base with a bleeding wound on his head that needed 12 stitches.
“It was February 5, 1986 at Karadiyanaru, and it was the most dangerous incident I have ever had. I was hit on my head. My co-pilot was also hit. But, I didn’t want to give up the fight”, he said. “The most interesting or momentous thing after two decades of the incident, one person tells me he was the shooter. He is Karuna Amman,” recalled Jayampathy.
At a crucial period in 1995 when all the pilots refused to fly, Jayampathy took the challenge of piloting a plane to Jaffna as it was the only mode of transport for the people. He also recalled how if not for his wedding day he could have been in the cockpit of an aircraft that was hit and destroyed by the Tigers.
Speaking about the Air Force contribution to the national economy, he says that they also have a bigger role to play in gas and oil exploration in coastal areas.
In an interview with Nation, Air Marshal Jayampathy speaks about his experiences as well as his plans for the Air Force and the country.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: Your appointment as the Commander of the Air Force comes a few years after the defeat of terrorism. What are your plans for national security?
Well, the war is over, but it does not mean that we have nothing to protect. We have kept our intelligence units vigilant 24 hours and seven days. When there is no war we must be capable of gathering information and making plans for the future. I have plans, I have dreams, I have patience, determination and dedication. The armed forces have strong intelligent units which are on duty around the clock. The Air Force also has its intelligence units.
Q: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently highlighted the necessity of upgrading the armed forces. What is your role in this process?
We are a nation which defeated one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. It shows that we know how to use the minimum resources for maximum use. Technology continues to advance and we cannot afford to be stagnated. We must safeguard our seas and shores, in other words maritime boundaries and economic resources.
We need resources for that and therefore should go for the latest technology. We need to be in touch with other nations for knowledge and technology sharing.
Q: Do you mean that we could expect a modernization process in the SLAF soon?
We are a professional Air Force and we must always be armed. You could call it modernization or anything. But, we should have the country’s national security in mind. We need to be on the alert. We must create an opportunity for resource development. Each and every airman should know how to repair a flight and to detect a fault like an engineer.
On the other hand, we have to be mindful of the economic strength of the country. Regional countries like Singapore and the Maldives have production plants of aircrafts. We are looking at repairing capabilities. We should also go to that level soon.
Q: There are issues such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, and poaching. The Navy plays a major role in tackling the issues. What role does the Air Force play?
Our main objective is to safeguard our national air strip. At the same time, we support the other forces to ensure national security. The SLAF is also actively operational to stop poaching, drug trafficking, piracy or human trafficking. We have a network with regional countries to combat such malpractices and illegal activities.
Q: Does the SLAF have any direct security measures that are linked with regional countries?
Yes. We have a large area to safeguard on the seas and we neighbour countries work with an understanding. Just think, an accident occurs in the sea, finding the location and provision of basic needs is up to the Air Force. The rescue operation should be done by the Navy or someone else.