Features
LTTE move to wipe  out SLAF revealed
planned to use Russian SA-18 against Israeli Kfirs

By Shamindra Ferdinando

CDS Air Marshal Donald Perera

President Mahinda Rajapakse should be grateful to his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga for the Israeli-built multi-role fighter aircraft she acquired a decade ago. The Jewish State sold the fighters with the approval of the US.

Without them, the Jaffna forces would not have withstood the recent LTTE onslaught. Equipped with a computerized bombing programme system for the accurate delivery of bombs, Kfirs are in service with the SLAF since 1996.

Kfir and MIG 27 aircraft on  formation

A series of Kfir attacks on major targets including artillery positions helped ground forces to blunt the recent onslaught. The Kfirs and artillery, particularly multi barrel rocket launchers acquired in the aftermath of the Elephant Pass defeat in April 2000, forced the LTTE to call off the offensive.

The Kfirs’ success even took the military top brass by surprise. The SLAF’s premier Jet Squadron was reinforced with the deployment of eight Kfirs in 1999—a 200 percent increase in inventory. Although a few Kfirs were lost due to enemy action and an accident, the squadron had the firepower to engage the enemy decisively. If the MIG 27s, also acquired in 1999 were available, the SLAF would have done better. Unfortunately the MIGs are grounded pending servicing.


SA-18

Jaffna battle claims 160, 450 wounded

The army lost 160 men in action, including officers. The LTTE offensive which was launched on August 11 evening wounded almost 500 men and officers. The LTTE suffered heavy losses, the worst since February 2002. The LTTE succeeded in breaking through the Muhamalai frontline and seizing several army positions. Their artillery fire forced the SLAF to suspend flights to Palaly. The situation would have been worse if they managed to seize Muttur thereby interfering with Trincomalee base. Their strategy was similar to the one executed in April, 1995 with devastating success. Despite the absence of anti-aircraft missiles in their arsenal, the LTTE maximises the use of artillery, thereby closing the strategic Palaly airbase. Official communiqu`E9s did not reflect the exact situation. The forces regained control of the situation on the fourth day of the fighting after a series of air and artillery attacks inflicted sizeable losses, thereby demoralising the enemy.


High Commissioner Nirupam Sen

IPKF recovers SA-7 heat seeker

Although the LTTE never used missiles against the Indian Airforce during the deployment of the IPKF here (July 1987 to March 1990), Indian troops recovered a heat seeking anti-aircraft missile during an operation. Some speculated that the recovery of a Russian built SA-7 (surface to air missile) on August 2, 1988 from an LTTE hideout at Nallur was staged by the Indians. No less a person than the then Deputy High Commissioner Nirupam Sen confirmed the recovery. This is what he told this correspondent two days after the detection, "The country of manufacturer has no relevance, but what was relevant was tracing the agency or the organisation which could have supplied the SA-7 missile to the LTTE." Sen returned as the Indian High Commissioner during Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President.

Missile attacks stun SLAF

Let me briefly examine the situation in April, 1995. The LTTE struck on April 19 after a 108-day truce. They blew up two Chinese built gunboats-Suraya and Ranasuru at the Trincomalee harbour. On April 28 a Hawker Siddley 748, better known as Avro, came down over Palaly. Initially the SLAF claimed that one of its Rolls Royce engines caught fire as it took off from Palaly. The SLAF said that the aircraft crashed as the pilot made an abortive bid to return to Palaly. Almost 50 officers and men perished.

The SLAF lost a second Avro the following day. Wing Commander S. Pathirana warned the Palaly control tower of a missile attack before he went down. Among the crew was Wing Commander Shirantha Goonetileke, son of former SLAF Commander Harry Goonetileke. The LTTE struck as the ill-fated aircraft was coming down to land at Palaly. Among the dead were SLAF officers on their way to investigate the previous day’s loss of aircraft. Hours after the loss of the second aircraft, the SLAF admitted that both aircraft were brought down by missiles. The SLAF suspended all flights to the peninsula. Fights resumed on May 10. The appearance of missiles made Italian-built Siai Marchetti SF 260, Siai Marchetti SF 260 W and Argentine Pucara light aircraft obsolete. Against this backdrop, the LTTE mounted pressure on bases in the peninsula. The forces were in an extremely difficult situation. The war entered a new phase with the induction of missiles. The government was caught napping. The consequences were catastrophic.

Op. Leap forward fails

An effort to expand the area under army control around the sprawling Palaly airbase ended in disaster. A combined security forces offensive codenamed Leap Forward ran into serious trouble as the LTTE brought down a Pucara over the peninsula. The twin-turboprop light aircraft piloted by Flying Officer D. F. D. S. Perera was shot down as it bombed the enemy targeting the newly established Sandilipay-Alaveddi frontline. The operation which was launched in the second week of July was called off. Troops abandoned approximately 80 square kms brought under their control.

IPKF recovers SA-7 heat

seeker

Although the LTTE never used missiles against the Indian Airforce during the deployment of the IPKF here (July 1987 to March 1990), Indian troops recovered a heat seeking anti-aircraft missile during an operation. Some speculated that the recovery of a Russian built SA-7 (surface to air missile) on August 2, 1988 from an LTTE hideout at Nallur was staged by the Indians. No less a person than the then Deputy High Commissioner Nirupam Sen confirmed the recovery. This is what he told this correspondent two days after the detection, "The country of manufacturer has no relevance, but what was relevant was tracing the agency or the organisation which could have supplied the SA-7 missile to the LTTE." Sen returned as the Indian High Commissioner during Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President.

Riviresa counters threat

Faced with the growing threat on Palaly and Kankesanthurai bases, Kumaratunga authorised Riviresa, the biggest ever combined security forces offensive to bring the entire peninsula under their control. The offensive which got underway on August 16th, 1995 came to a successful end with the capture of Jaffna town in the first week of December, 1995. Subsequently Vadamaratchchy fell.

During the battle for the peninsula, the LTTE struck again. A Ukrainian built AN 32 carrying a contingent of special forces troops was shot down north west of Palaly as it was coming down to land. The aircraft which was not equipped to fly in a ‘missile threat environment’ was taking a contingent of troops to join the assault on Jaffna town.

About 510 officers and men died during the Jaffna campaign and a further 1300 wounded. The dead included about 50 officers and men who died when the LTTE shot down the AN 32 on November 22, 1995.

LTTE strikes back

The LTTE almost succeeded in routing the Jaffna forces in early 2000. The fall of Elephant Pass base in late April 2000 made their task easier. The army managed to thwart the offensive with the induction of multi barrel rocket launchers. Fortunately the forces did not face the missile threat and that made their task relatively easier.

`85seeks SA-18 missiles

The recent attack was the second major attempt to overrun the Jaffna forces. This week’s arrest of US and Canada—based LTTE operatives engaged in a bid to acquire Russian built SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles and 500 AK 47 assault rifles among other arms, ammunition and equipment was evidence that the enemy was serious in strangling the peninsula. If the LTTE succeeded in inducting missiles again, the Jaffna forces would have faced a deadly threat. LTTE ally TNA would not have called for a ceasefire if the self appointed ‘sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people’ were successful in their latest adventure.

Many terrorist groups including Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah is believed to have acquired highly sophisticated SA-18 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Acquisition of the Russian-manufactured SA-18, a much improved version of the SA-7 missiles would have vastly upgraded the LTTE’s capabilities.

The SA-18 is vastly superior to the SA-7. Its 2-kg chemical energy fragmentation warhead is larger and more lethal than that of the SA-7, while aerodynamic improvements give it a greater maximum range (5200 meters) and altitude (3500 meters). Its higher speed enables the SA-18 to hit faster targets. The SA-18’s enhanced seeker allows it to be fired at much broader angles than the SA-7 and greatly reduces the missile’s vulnerability to both heat flares and electro-optical jammers.

The SA-18’s guidance system employs proportional convergence logic, allowing it to home in on airframe radiation, rather than isolated hot spots (e.g. engines, exhaust pipes), and has an optical aiming mechanism. As a result, unlike the SA-7, the SA-18 can hit aerial targets head-on. The LTTE is reported to have sought ten SA-18s. Their deployment would have substantially impaired the ability of the SLAF to conduct low-altitude bombing and reconnaissance missions. I hope the LTTE did not plan to use the missiles to target civilian airliners. The Igla-M [SA-N-10 ] is the naval version of the SA-18.

Splendid performance

Airforce Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke should be congratulated for the splendid performance. He is the brother of Wing Commander Shirantha who died on April 29, 1995 in a missile attack. Since Roshan’s appointment as the SLAF Chief, his father, a regular critic of the government’s security policy, appears to be guarded in his comments.

Tigers want Jaffna back

If Jaffna defences collapsed, Rajapakse’s opponents would have had a gala time. The LTTE would have been able to secure a significant political victory ahead of the forthcoming Hero’s Day speech. Let me reproduce a translation of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 1995 Hero’es Day speech which was made shortly before Riviresa forces recaptured Jaffna town. Prabhakaran admitted that army may take Jaffna but said the door to peace would be closed as long as troops occupied the city. "They may hoist the flag`85and light firecrackers but we want to express one thing. As long as they occupy Jaffna, the door to peace talks will always remain tightly shut. The war in Jaffna is only a temporary set back`85.from this setback we will reach victory."

Missile free environment

The military top brass is puzzled as to why the LTTE did not fire anti-aircraft missiles during the over week-long battle across the army’s frontlines in the Jaffna peninsula.

"If they brought down a fighter aircraft over Jaffna it would have a catastrophic impact on the defenders. A successful missile strike would have given the attackers the upper hand," a senior military official said. "That would have facilitated an LTTE siege on the peninsula and Jaffna islands."

The battle erupted on the evening of August 11 shortly after the SLAF targeted LTTE bases in the Batticaloa district.

The military believed that the LTTE acquired anti-aircraft missiles during the Oslo-arranged ceasefire agreement.

Ground forces repulsed a series of assaults on the frontlines with the help of heavy Kfir strikes on LTTE targets. The attack could not have been beaten back without air strikes, another official said.

Kfirs operate from SLAF base at Katunayake, targeted by the LTTE during the previous PA administration.

Israeli-built Kfirs, a multi-role fighter in service with the SLAF since 1996 played a pivotal role in the counter attack. The aircraft has sophisticated equipment to maximize strike efficacy.

"If they had missiles, they would have used against Kfirs," a Tamil politician said. Speaking to The Sunday Island on the condition of anonymity, he expressed the belief that Tigers did not have missiles.

In fact ordinary cadres and the civilian population in the embattled region were led to believe that the LTTE acquired arms, ammunition and equipment over the past four years, he said. According to him a massive fund collection campaign was mounted in the West for what the Tamil Diaspora termed as the final war.

The Jaffna based Russian built helicopter gunships were also involved in recent operations. The military acknowledged that a loss of a Kfir or a helicopter gunship would have been disastrous, particularly as the MIG 27 ground attack aircraft are grounded pending servicing.

The LTTE had previously used heat seeking missiles believed to be Russian built SAMS or US Stinger against aircraft with devastating success.

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