Spirit of 'The Hinds'!
Nilakshi Gunatillake - Reporting from the Mother base
of The Hinds
into the hangar of No.09 Attack Helicopter Squadron - a.k.a 'The Hinds'
- and you are greeted by flying overalls, tech overalls and 'pin heads'.
The strength of the merger of green and shades of blue, keeps the
gunships flying and the skies safe. The author, delves into the success
of the Squadron and writes, "what mattered were - the 'who' in the team,
the 'how' of the missions, 'what' the men thought and of course, the
unusual spirit that bonded who, how and what... together."
No.09 Attack Helicopter Squadron (a.k.a The Hinds)
became a reality on 24 November, 1995 with the initiation of Mil Mi-24
"Hind" gunships into Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). SLAF Base, Hingurakgoda
is the proud Mother base of the squadron. The initial 'No.09' consisted
of three (03) Attack Helicopters and thirty one (31) personnel (Pilots
05, Engineering Crew 26). At present the squadron is made up of fourteen
(14) Attack Helicopters and three hundred and six (306) personnel
(Pilots 21, Engineering Crew 249 and Air Gunners 36).
The squadron was formed to face the requirement for a
dedicated air borne attack formation to support the National Military
Strategy focusing on the theatre of conflict in the North of Sri Lanka.
This challenge was countered when SLAF decided to procure a battle
tested, dedicated attack helicopter platform which assured devastating
fire power delivery while flying low. The Russian built Mi-24 also known
as the "Devil's Chariot," "Flying Tank" and the "Flying Infantry Combat
Vehicle" was thus inducted into SLAF. The gunship was heavily armoured
and had the capacity to absorb a great deal of battle damage, yet remain
The squadron's main role focus on Counter Surface
Force Operations and limited Counter Air Operations through the
following functions: Close Air Support (CAS)/ Battlefield Air
Interdiction (BAI), Air Interdiction (AI), Maritime Air Operations,
Armed Escort Missions and Air Defence Operations. The squadron's
adaptability to face any demanding situation other than its main
functions was illustrated by the special missions they carried out. Some
of the special missions carried out by No.09 included - Search and
Rescue Missions, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) Rescue
Missions, Escort Missions for VVIP/VIP, Troop and cargo transport,
Distributing leaflets over enemy area and Security of air corridors for
transport aircraft. In recognition of its dedicated service to the
Nation, the Squadron was bestowed with Presidential Colours in March,
Super humans they are not, but human beings with
beating hearts. As some like to think they are not immortal; they too,
hurt, bleed and die. They are an utterly reliable, dependable and
sure-fire team, but not absolutely fail-safe - well, no team ever is. A
few missions they carried out were bloody and they lost some of their
best men and beloved gunships. Sometimes they slowly flew back to base
in their battle damaged machines, cockpits cracked, shoulders wounded
and arms bleeding. What is important in war and peace is a squadron's
come-back speed and here 'Squadron 09' was amazingly quick. Wounds taken
care of, next mission planned, machines fixed, and munition reloaded,
they jumped back on board, thumbs up and off they flew again!
The 'who' in the team
Successful squadrons cannot be bought nor are they
gifted from above. They are the results of hard work, selfless
sacrifice, dedicated service and willingness to serve of all team
members. From the Commanding Officer (CO) who leads the squadron to the
civilian that keeps the hangar and the adjoining offices neat, and
everyone in between, pitch in with all they have towards the success of
Eelam War IV, in its excruciatingly tensed environment, the spirit of
the squadron in totality played a huge role in its success and in turn
contributed immensely towards the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of the
Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Some would have felt that they were at the brink of
their personal limits and about to fail. And if they did? The rest of
the squadron would have had to take on their duties, in addition to
their own overflowing days and nights. Here was when that spirit came
in. One's failure would add more burdens to the squadron and diminish
its success and its glory and in turn affect the total ongoing war. This
mental pressure and feeling of personal responsibility drove all to
accomplish things they never would otherwise have even attempted.
Developing this spirit is the toughest 'sortie' any
squadron is expected to execute. It is not created overnight but infused
over time - built into its day in and day out activities. As part of
No.09's operations, building a dynamic team occupies a vital position.
This results in the growth of a "can-do-no-matter-what" attitude that
was behind the success of the squadron and the ability to sustain the
'spirit of attack!'
The task started with a CO with his head firmly on his
shoulders. He believed in not isolating a single man in his squadron.
Thinking with his head and feeling with his heart, he had the steely
knack to find the right man for the right place and vice versa. The men
were given space to develop and the latitude to move. Leading from the
front, he let his men grow. This resulted in a squadron full of self
satisfied, confident individuals, who knew that the sky was the limit.
Next in line are the Officer Commanding-Operations (OC Ops as he is
generally called) and Officer Commanding Maintenance (OCM). OC Ops, the
'live wire' of the squadron, kept the CO, Officers and men on the same
wavelength. Pulling from the front and pushing from behind he took pride
in his bonded team and strove to keep it going, before, during and after
the operations. The OCM took the entrusted responsibility of keeping the
fleet of gunships 'up and running' in his stride. These two words
implied a gamut of operations and tasks that were interconnected.
A disconnection would have immediately implicated the
operational ability and the very existence of the whole squadron and the
attack capability of SLAF. The CO, OC Ops and OCM worked with already
moulded men who fit into their tasks admirably. The moulding to become a
part of an Attack Squadron came, especially for pilots, through a
Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI). The training that the QHIs of the
Squadron for the past so many years have delivered has brought out this
professional squadron of flying infantry - with the spirit and skill to
take split second decisions, while flying in the line of fire.
threw the team together at different points of time for long durations.
So apart from fighting together, this made them live together for weeks
at end. This ironed out differences, developed mutual understanding,
close relationships and interaction. These very ingredients that made
successful, spirited warrior squadrons became available and created a
new learning culture within the squadron and this new learning added
momentum. The pluses and minuses of missions were earlier discussed in
the mission planning room. But as the battles became more fierce and
attack squadron's teams being deployed became more frequent in locations
other than the mother base, the post mission feed backs were dissected
on the move. As mission after mission was accomplished, relationships
within the squadron strengthened, individuals matured and the squadron
as a whole became more professional. As the pride of belonging to 'The
Hinds' grew, the already existing cordial relationships transformed into
a deep and long lasting camaraderie that immensely helped the squadron
on its way to unprecedented success.
The 'how' of the missions
The Hinds never categorized their missions as easy or
as tough. Each mission was a mission, performed under tremendous
pressure and executed with precision and due gravity. For them no
mission was too big or too small. For them a mission was a calling they
carry out, not with sporadic bursts of emotion but with a slow and
steady committed passion that lasts the lifetime of the mission and
before and after. The CO received the mission, with only the targets
specified - but not the 'how' of the sortie. The 'how' of the total
operation was planned and pulled off within the squadron and in
consultation with others included in the mission. This was where
teamwork mattered. The camaraderie developed over a time and the
confidence gained through countless successful missions motivated the
whole squadron to focus their professionalism towards greater success.
The efficiency in which the
ins and outs of the operations were handled during the final stages of
the battle was, to say the least, dynamic. There were not many pilots
and gunships to have easy manoeuvrability with rosters, it is amazing
how the squadron flew that many sorties, with this few gunships and
the Squadron amidst a formidable war tempo, managed to sustain the new
training and refresher training to produce, for instance, the best
attack pilots, was amazing. This is a process geared towards an unusual
combination of intellectual, physical and emotional strength. An
unclouded judgement, a high rate of IQ, a positive attitude, an
excellent memory and a detailed knowledge of hundreds of policies,
procedures and systems were some skills required to become a helicopter
pilot. Honing these skills and mentally preparing the pilots towards
'Attack!' was a gradual transformation. Whetting and sharpening the
pilot's existent skills of manoeuvre, identification and engagement of
targets, flying, communicating - all as real time skills- was the
challenge that was countered and won by the Attack Squadron. The
training process involved real-world, worst-case simulations to produce
the most resolute of individuals and a fearless flying infantry.
It was not only the CO, OC Ops, OC Maintenance, the
pilots and gunners who bore the brunt of pressure that came with the
planning of the mission. The full squadron got activated for each
undertaking. Everyone had a vital role to play. Regular checks were done
on gun ships at required intervals and when necessary their lives
extended. In conventional military flying, a battle damage on an
aircraft is enough reason to abandon the mission and transfer the
machine to those in tech overalls for a few days. For this squadron,
bringing the machine down due to a 'small' battle damage was a hindrance
towards duty. For them what really mattered were- how 'small' the damage
was and how 'soon' the machine can be up, flying and attacking again.
But at no point was the safety of the crew or the gunships compromised
due to the urgency of the situation.
There were pilots who willingly flew mission after
mission and placed priority on missions, not on free time they had a
right for. There were pilots who were on standby at not very 'happening'
locations breathlessly waiting for that 'call' to become airborne and
'attack'. The squadron had the privilege to have technical personnel,
who understood the urgency in 'ASAP' (As Soon As Possible). There were
instances where, immediately after a mission planning and briefing,
pilots sprung on board and had the engines revved, while armament
fitters 'armed' the machine. There were technicians who made a
difference to the total attack efficiency of the squadron. The team was
once under pressure due to a malfunctioning of the dispense efficiency
of the machines' rocket system. The technician's ingenuity proved to be
the turning point for the better, when he developed a rocket tester that
ensured the system's efficiency 'before' the mission commenced. The
missions aimed at destroying the target in the shortest possible time
span. Yet, it also included the safety of the men and machines. Bringing
men back to base was as important as flying out on sorties.
When the Mi-24 was used excessively in Afghanistan, it
was called "The Vulnerable Hind". In Sri Lanka too, this was the case in
the initial stages. However, gradually the squadron made it
'technologically and operationally' less vulnerable, but more deadly.
After the ground breaking technological advancements made to the
machines, the gunships flown by No.09 Attack Helicopter Squadron were
considered the world's most sophisticated Mi - 24.
And 'what' the men think
Pilots "We have a great bond to the machine, we go
hand in glove! There we were
enemy targets using our 2D inputs...but it's a 3D environment out there
and indescribable! We look at our tiny display and the eternally moving
TD box (Target Designator) and then we have to dip, flip, sway to avoid
enemy fire, focus and engage enemy targets and at the same time
communicate with our 'brother in the sky' - the co-pilot, who is in the
other cockpit and whom we cannot see. We always fly in pairs, so we have
to communicate and guide the other machine and the other brothers and
also be guided by them. We have been trained and shaped perfectly to fit
into this frame of tension, but a lot has to be done with our sixth
sense too. At the end of the mission, we fly back to base and we see the
triumph and pride in the squadron...then we are ready to fly and attack
again...day and night"
"We are so proud to be part of a war fought against
terrorists. To know that we were part of the missions, contributed our
maximum towards its success and lived to see the victory from our own
eyes is a great privilege. We never felt fear when going on an 'op,' and
the successes led us to want to be part of more and more missions.
Further, we were also part of the planning and briefing sessions. So we
knew what and what not to do."
have immense pride in belonging to this squadron. We work as a team and
it is enriching to know that the machine I maintained, the ammunition my
colleague fitted and the tester that our technician developed, all were
part of the squadron's success in carrying out its role. Different
ammunition is required for different 'ops'. Sometimes we had to change
the configurations many times over, under immense pressure, within a
very short time. But our efforts were not wasted." "Safety, motivation
and speed - all are possible with team work. Working with ammunition is
hazardous and on the speed we act depends part of the success of the
mission. When working in a location other than the mother base, we
operate with a minimum crew. So, if we do not operate as a team, no
mission can succeed."
The legend lives on... Reaching a zenith in
professionalism and commitment to achieve unprecedented success require
unending dedication, an ever burning passion and untiring willingness to
serve. For the squadron it was not always 'smooth flying.' Similar to
their sorties the squadron dipped, surfaced, swayed and flew high. There
were triumphs and despair; triumphs in the battlefield and despair in
the squadron- when the triumphant did not return. The squadron's first
Commanding Officer, eight other officers and twelve airmen made their
supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. The contribution towards the
success of the squadron by all such men who defended the Motherland not
only with their gunships, their 'ammo' and but also with their lives -
cannot be ever forgotten. The valour of the men who 'attacked', got shot
at, flew through enemy fire, triumphed and survived to bring back to
base his men and machine too cannot ever be erased or diminished. In
another decade a snap shot of the Attack Squadron would doubtless
portray different gun ships, different maintenance procedures, different
communication equipment and different locations, tactics and strategies.
But the ultimate weapon of the squadron - the spirit of attack of the
individuals, will be no different than that of today. If what is
palpable in the squadron today is anything to go by, it will become
stronger, never weaker.
Courtesy : MCNS