Sri Lanka is planning to set up a helicopter-equipped naval air wing in an attempt to combat maritime operations conducted by Tamil Tigers separatist forces in the north of the country.

"We have now finalised the administrative staff and are training the technical staff. The training for this is provided by the Indian navy," naval chief of staff Rear Adm Daya Sandagiri told local press. According to Sandagiri, the force will have a strength of about three helicopters.

It is understood that the Sri Lankan navy is due to take delivery of a 1,890t Sukanya class offshore patrol vessel from the Indian navy in December, as part of a $20 million arms deal. The vessel normally carries a Hindustan Aeronautics Chetak (a licence-built Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III), and Sri Lanka is expected to take one helicopter initially for this vessel.

Preparations for setting up the air wing began with the commissioning into the navy of three retired air force officers earlier this month. In recent years Sri Lanka has striven to develop its naval capabilities to counter maritime operations by the Tamil Tigers.

The conflict has increased Sri Lanka's military spending. Most recently it acquired eight used IAIKfir fighters from Israel.

Source: Flight International