Former Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) chief, Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunatilleke, says that the only practical way of neutralising the LTTE's Air Force is the destruction of its planes on the ground.
"Instead of chopping the branches of the tree, we have to go for the roots. Destruction of the planes on the ground is the only way to get rid of the problem," Gunatilleke told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
The Kfirs and MIG-27s, which were being used, would not be able to play an interceptor role given the nature of the opposition. But they could do precision bombing if reports by Intelligence about the LTTE's hangars were accurate, the veteran said.
"The Air Force would have to go in for sophisticated surveillance and detection systems. The UAVs for example would be able to see number plates of vehicles from a height of 8,000 ft."
"A good detection system will also reduce instances of the kind of wild firing one saw during the air raid on Colombo and its suburbs on April 28," he said.
Anti aircraft guns from Katunayake in the North, down to Ratmalana in the South, covering a 50 km stretch, were firing indiscriminately, while the Tiger raiders were concentrating on a small area.
AVM Gunatilleke was Air Chief between 1976 and 1981. On of his sons as killed in 1995 when the Avro transport aircraft he was piloting was shot down by the LTTE. The other son, Roshan, is the current Air Chief.
But it would not be easy to destroy Tiger planes on the ground because they could be parked in heavily fortified underground hangars, Gunatilleke warned.
"Bunker buster bombs can be used to destroy them, provided accuracy is assured. In the absence of accuracy there will be needless collateral destruction of great magnitude," he said.
Diplomats do not rule out the existence of underground hangars as many of the vital installations of the LTTE are underground. But Iqbal Athas, Sri Lanka Correspondent of Janes' Defence Weekly, does not think that they exist.
"These are small planes which can be concealed easily. They can take off from and land on a gravel road or any 400 to 500 metre stretch of flat land," Athas said.
"The main problem is not where the planes are kept, but whether or not Intelligence reports about their whereabouts are adequate," the analyst said.
"In 2002, a US Pacific Command study of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces had noted that the current Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets of the SLAF were inadequate," he recalled.
The US report had recommended that the acquisition of ISR platforms be given priority over purchase of new aircraft.
Apparently, the advice had not been heeded. This was why the SLAF's frequent raids on the Iranamadu air field in the Wanni had not borne fruit, diplomats said.
"The Iranamadu air field may well have been a fake," one of them said.