Chinese Y-12 STOL Aircraft To Boost Sri-Lanka’s Military; Negotiates With US For C-130 Surveillance Aircraft

In what can best be described as an about-face, the Srilanka Air Force – well known for its action against civilians in Jaffna during the Tamil movement — is keen to modernize its fleet and make it functional for maritime surveillance and peacekeeping in the Indian Ocean Region.

Sri Lanka’s Air Force (SLAF) has announced ambitious plans to modernize its fleet and capabilities, with a strategic shift towards maritime surveillance and peacekeeping efforts in the Indian Ocean region.

Air Marshal R A Udeni P Rajapaksa, Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), announced these strategic initiatives during a press conference on February 14.

In a notable shift from previous priorities, Air Marshal Rajapaksa outlined the SLAF’s transition from major combat capabilities towards maritime surveillance, transport, and territorial defense.

History bears testimony to the airstrike on the Nager Kovil school in Jaffna, Sri Lanka that took place on September 22, 1995. The Sri Lankan Air Force bombed the school, resulting in the death of, by varying accounts, 34-71 Sri Lankan Tamil civilians, primarily schoolchildren, and the injury of many more.

File:Beechcraft B300 King Air 350, Australia - Royal Australian Air Force ( RAAF) JP6061239.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Beechcraft B300 King Air 350, Australia – Royal Australian Air Force ( RAAF)

“We do not intend to develop a huge fighting force. We need to protect our land, and consequently, we need to have maritime domain awareness,” he stated, highlighting the importance of peace in the Indian Ocean for the sustainable development of the nation.

“Peace is paramount for sustainable development, and it is incumbent upon the SLAF to protect the airspace over the Indian Ocean,” remarked Air Marshal Rajapaksa.

As part of this strategic realignment, discussions are underway with several countries to acquire helicopters and training aircraft. Air Marshal Rajapaksa disclosed that negotiations with the US Air Force were underway for the acquisition of two C130 aircraft, with a focus on securing newer models.

FILE IMAGE: C-130 aircraft took its first-ever flight to Antarctica to deliver to the observatory last weekend. GUSTO will fly on a scientific balloon this winter to map a portion of the Milky Way galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud. Via: NASA

Further, the SLAF is set to receive two maritime patrol aircraft, including a Beechcraft King Air 350 from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a Beechcraft King Air 360ER Extended Range (B300) from the US government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

In a May 2023 official announcement, the Sri Lankan Presidential Secretariat declared that Australia would offer sustainment assistance for the King Air 350 for the first 12-month duration, after which Sri Lanka would take over the responsibility for maintenance.

At the time, Australia said that the donated helicopter would reinforce the strong bilateral relationship between the two countries while contributing to enhancing Sri Lanka’s capacity to combat transnational crime and safeguard its borders.

In addition to acquisitions, the SLAF plans to overhaul existing aircraft, such as the MI-17 helicopters, to support increased participation in UN missions and bolster Sri Lanka’s standing in international peacekeeping efforts.

Y-12 Aircraft To Boost SLAF’s Aerial Capabilities

In addition to these acquisition plans, Srilanka Air Force commander revealed that the SLAF had already procured two new Y12 aircraft of Chinese origin as part of its fleet expansion efforts.

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) finalized the acquisition of the two cutting-edge Y-12IV aircraft in June 2023. This acquisition was facilitated by a contract signed on December 16, 2019, between the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence representing the Sri Lankan Government and the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation.

The SLAF heralded the Y-12IV aircraft as a notable enhancement to its fleet. This aircraft functions as a versatile light transport with its Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) capabilities.

Manufactured by HARBIN Aviation Industry Co. Ltd. in China, the Y-12IV is equipped with a twin-engine turboprop configuration. This model, an upgraded iteration of the Y-12, features extended wing tips and a higher take-off weight, thereby amplifying its performance capabilities.

“The acquisition of these brand new Y-12IV aircraft highlights the SLAF commitment to enhancing its aerial capabilities and strengthening the fleet with cutting-edge technology. The addition of these aircraft will undoubtedly contribute to the SLAF operational readiness, enabling it to effectively fulfill diverse operations while serving the nation and promoting regional security,” according to the Srilanka Air Force.

The Sri Lanka Air Force inducted two Harbin Y-12 IV aircraft from China.

The Y-12IV stands as an improved model featuring sweptback wingtips, redesigned seating to accommodate 18-19 passengers, and a maximum weight increased to 5700 kg.

Notably, a version of this aircraft is marketed by the Canadian Aerospace Corporation under the name Twin Panda, positioned as a replacement for the DHC-6.

The development of the Harbin Y-12 commenced in 1980, building upon its predecessor, the Y-11 aircraft. The aircraft is propelled by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27 turboprop engines, each capable of generating 462kW of output power.

These engines are paired with Hartzell three-blade aluminum propellers, equipped with anti-icing capability, and maintain a constant speed of 2,200rpm.

To minimize propeller noise, the engine incorporates an epicyclic speed reduction gearbox, which optimizes output speed. Additionally, the engine features a multi-stage axial and single-stage centrifugal compressor, a reverse flow combustor, and a single-stage compressor turbine.