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Ranil exposes holes in Lankan air defence

The Oppn leader says at the time of LTTE attack on airbase, none of the Indian radars were operational, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Apr 08, 2007 18:31 IST

The Sri Lankan leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is on the offensive against Rajapaksa regime on the issue of air defence, which has been agitating the people of the country since the aerial bombing of the Katunayake airbase by the LTTE on March 26.

According to The Sunday Leader Wickremesinghe told the parliamentary group of his United National Party (UNP) last Tuesday, that at the time of the attack, none of the radars given by India was operational. All of then had been switched off!

"What we have is a 8-4-8 system. That means it has to be kept on for eight hours and switched off for four hours."

"When one is switched off, the others should be kept open. But that night, all the radars were switched off," Wickremesinghe is quoted as saying.

The opposition leader further said that since the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) did not have night flying capability, it was presumed that the LTTE too did not have this capability. There were no observation posts to cover areas not within the range of the radars, he added.

Wickremesinghe alleged that while the Indians had offered to train 240 electronics engineers and technicians, and 30 persons were to go as the first batch, only two were sent.

UNP MP, Sagala Ratnayake, who is said to be a defence expert, told the parliamentary group that the hot line between the radars was out of service at the time of the attack.

"Even when the STF (Special Task Force) spotted the aircraft in Vavuniya (in North Sri Lanka), and wanted to report it, the hotline did not work. They had to use a mobile phone!" he pointed out.

According to Ratnayake, the SLAF had only two aged interceptors. And of these two, only one took off, and that too, very late, enabling the Tiger raiders to reach their bases in the Wanni unscathed.

Mysterious exit of UAV

The Sunday Times blamed the government for not taking seriously, the mysterious disappearance of an Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over the Wanni in late October 2005. The government had claimed that it had crashed because of a "technical fault", but The Sunday Times put out a story saying that it had been shot down either by an aircraft or a radar guided gun.

Intriguingly, in an unusual response, the LTTE promptly said that it would be a speculation to say that the UAV was brought down by an aircraft.

According to The Sunday Times the LTTE had come out with a quick denial of its story because it did not want the world to discover its aerial capability "prematurely".

If only the government had taken the incident seriously and come to the correct conclusion, it would have prepared itself for and air raid.

India not to upgrade radar

While the Sri Lankan media is saying that the 2D radars given by India will have to be upgraded to 3D, and that India has agreed to do so, it is learnt that the Indians have made it clear that for the nature of the threat faced by Sri Lanka, 2D will do.

On the controversy over the functioning of the radars gifted to Sri Lanka, a well-placed Indian Defence Ministry source told Hindustan Times on Sunday that the charge of malfunctioning was baseless.

"The equipment will have to be run competently and maintained properly. That is the task of the local personnel. That the Indian radars were frequently breaking down is a baseless charge," the source said.

"We are in the process of setting up the radar system and the work is almost over. Simultaneous training of Sri Lankan personnel is also on," the source added.