Sri Lankan Air Force receives first Dornier 228

A ceremony was held at Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) Base Katunayake, adjacent to Colombo International Airport, on August 15 to induct the first SLAF-operated Dornier 228 into operational service.

The aircraft, serial SMR-846, which had previously served with the Indian Navy’s Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 550 at Indian Naval Air Station Garuda, Kochi (Cochin), was gifted to the SLAF by India free-of-charge on a two-year loan. It was handed over in a ceremony presided over by Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana. Chief guests were Chief of the Armed Forces and the President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, the Hon Ranil Wickramasinghe, along with the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, His Excellency Gopal Baglay, was also in attendance. On arrival, the aircraft was greeted on the apron of 2 Heavy Transport Squadron by a traditional water cannon salute.

Sri Lankan Air Force Donrier 228
The first Dornier 228 for the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) arriving at SLAF Base Katunayake on August 15 for its official induction ceremony. Indian Navy

The loan of the aircraft is intended to allow the SLAF to put a maritime surveillance aircraft into service as quickly as possible, as it will take two years for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to manufacture a new Dornier 228. The aircraft appears to be in the standard Indian Navy maritime patrol aircraft configuration, which includes a belly-mounted radome housing an Elta EL/M2022 maritime surveillance radar (thought to be the latest EL/M2022 (V3) version) and a retractable under-fuselage Elbit Systems Elop CoMPASS electro-optical turret in the starboard main undercarriage housing. Meanwhile, the new aircraft is in production at HAL’s Transport Aircraft Division in Kanpur to replace it once the loan period expires.

The SLAF intends to employ the Dornier 228 specifically for maritime and coastal surveillance operations within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), search and rescue (SAR) missions, casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) and maritime pollution monitoring and control within the Sri Lankan Search and Rescue Region. It will be flown and maintained by 15 SLAF personnel who were trained in Indian over a period of four months, beginning in April. These included pilots, observers, engineering officers and technicians. They were accompanied by an Indian Government technical team attached to the SLAF and comprising engineering officers and technicians. The aircraft will be operated by No 3 Maritime Squadron based at SLAF China Bay, Trincomalee.

The possibility of the SLAF obtaining two Dornier 228s from India had first been raised on January 9, 2018, during the Defence Dialogue between Indian and Sri Lanka in New Delhi. Subsequently a government-to-government agreement was signed for the free-of-charge loan of one Indian Navy aircraft for an initial two-year period pending manufacture of new aircraft. Later, it was agreed that the first of the new Dornier 228s would also be provided for free, while the second would be bought once terms and conditions had been agreed between the two countries. This followed approval by the Sri Lankan Government’s Cabinet of Ministers for the deal earlier this year.

Earlier this year an agreement was also reached for the acquisition of two King Air 360ER maritime reconnaissance aircraft to further boost the capabilities of 3 Maritime Squadron. An $11.4m contract award to Textron Aviation for the first aircraft was announced by US Army Contracting Command on February 14. The aircraft will incorporate a belly radome and a lift kit for an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor to facilitate the aircraft’s role as a maritime surveillance platform. It will be handed over to the US Army by the end of this year, after which the US Army will install the sensors before delivering the aircraft on to the SLAF. Contract completion is anticipated on September 26, 2025.

The SLAF had been seeking to enhance its maritime surveillance capability for many years and as far back as the early 2000s had planned to acquire three King Air 350s for the role. However, the deal was cancelled, despite SLAF personnel having already undergone training in Florida. In 2017-18, the SLAF was even looking at acquiring second-hand P-3C Orions from Japan, but again this ultimately came to nothing. Until now, the SLAF has relied on a single B200 King Air fitted with a Hughes Integrated Synthetic Aperture Radar (HISAR) for maritime patrol. This is a 1988-built aircraft acquired second-hand from Raytheon in late 2002.