'Failure to get missiles sealed LTTE's fate'
LTTE's daring incursions into the Trinco and Jaffna in July-August were blunted by the repeated use of supersonic aircraft, writes PK Balachandran.india Updated: Aug 27, 2006 17:22 IST
It is now clear that the LTTE's daring incursions into the Trincomalee and Jaffna districts of Sri Lanka in July-August were blunted by the repeated use of supersonic aircraft by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF).
But if the LTTE had succeeded in its efforts to acquire 50 to 100 SA-18 shoulder held missiles from the clandestine arms market in the US, the SLAF's supersonic Kfir fighter bombers would not have been able to play the role that they did.
This had been the first time that the Sri Lankans used the SLAF, especially the Israeli-made Kfirs, to such an extent and with such devastating effect against the LTTE.
Previously, the SLAF had had a string of misfortunes. So much so that at a crucial stage in the war in 2000, it refrained from giving support to the beleaguered ground troops.
This led to the loss of most of the Wanni region and Elephant Pass, the latter considered to be the gateway to Jaffna.
On April 28, 1995, the LTTE used a missile to bring down an Avro at the Palaly airbase in Jaffna, killing 50 officers and men. In August that year, an AN-32 transport aircraft was shot down, again by a missile.
Although the Kfirs were acquired in 1996, they were not used in any significant way.
But by 2003, Colombo had realized the importance air power and begun to take steps to augment and improve it.
According to the Indian security expert B Raman, since 2003, the Sri Lankan government has been using Pakistani expertise to train its Air Force personnel and also to maintain its equipment (see South Asia Analysis Group Paper No: 1918 dated August 19,2006)
According to Raman, in June 2004, the Sri Lankan government had asked the Pakistan Air Force for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and bunker buster bombs.
Raman even says that about 10 to 15 PAF personnel are currently stationed in Colombo to advice the SLAF.
Pakistan has expertise in the use of air power against insurgents, having been using it in Balochistan, the Chennai-based Indian expert points out.
In this context, the appointment of Air Vice Marshal Shehzad Aslam Chaudhry as Pakistan's as High Commissioner in Sri Lanka is significant, Raman contends.
AVM Chaudhry is an acknowledged expert in using air power against insurgents.
The Sri Lankan media, however, rubbishes these contentions.
"It's a figment of Raman's imagination," says The Sunday Island quoting an un-named Sri Lankan military official.
However, whatever the source, the SLAF had acquired new equipment and skills, which showed results in the recent campaign, independent observers said.
The hawkish Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision to use the SLAF's Kfirs in a big way, and consistently, regardless of possible adverse international reactions, had also been a critical new factor.
LTTE's counter measures
The LTTE was aware of the SLAF's plans to be a significant player in any future conflict, and had been trying to acquire an air capability, both offensive and defensive.
Besides building two airstrips and reportedly assembling five twin engine propeller driver aircraft, the LTTE had been trying to acquire the modern SA-18 "Grouse" missiles from the underground arms market in the US.
The SA-18 is a Russian-made shoulder fired missile with a range of 8 kms. It is useful against fast and manoeuvrable targets and has improved lethality on the target, with a capability to hit the fuselage of the aircraft rather than the jet nozzle.
It also has improved resistance to counter measures (see wikipedia.org).
As revealed by the FBI recently, the LTTE wanted to buy 50 to 100 SA-18s, with 10 being sought for immediate delivery.
Training for their use was to be given to the LTTE in the jungles of Sri Lanka by foreign under cover agents.
In addition, the LTTE was trying to get UAVs for jamming radar and radio transmissions; submarine design software; radio control equipment; air traffic equipment; and Global Positioning Systems.
Sting operation stalls efforts
But the LTTE's efforts to acquire the equipment were stalled by a sting operation conducted by the FBI recently.
The FBI had at long last used the US anti-terror law to bust the racket, reflecting America's new found commitment to curbing terrorism where ever it might be, and implement the ban on the LTTE imposed way back in 1998.
Thirteen persons, all Tamils from the US and Canada, were arrested and produced before a judge in Brooklyn, New York last week on a charge of attempting to buy lethal military and dual use equipment for the LTTE and also to bribe the US State Department into lifting the ban on that outfit.
The FBI's disclosures and the busting of the clandestine arms procurement ring in North America are a major blow for the LTTE.
To date, the outfit has no answer to the SLAF's Kfirs equipped with a computerized bombing system to ensure accuracy.
The LTTE has had to postpone its plan to capture Jaffna and decommission the Palay air base in Jaffna and the Trincomalee naval base on the Eastern coast.
The plan to encircle the Trincomalee harbour had been foiled.
The LTTE is now trying to buy temporary peace by making friendly overtures to the Sri Lankan government.
It has released the last of the three Sri Lankan policemen it had taken into custody 11 months ago.
Sources say that at the height of the war, when its artillery bases in Sampur across the Trincomalee naval base were being pounded from the air almost daily, the LTTE had offered to demilitarise Sampur in exchange for a ceasefire.
But the government had rejected it and continued the bombing runs.