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Israeli boost for SLAF surveillance capability

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has taken delivery of an advanced type of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) from Israel.

Authoritative sources said the acquisition of UAVs would compensate for the loss of equipment in the LTTE raid on the Anuradhapura SLAF base last October.

The recently acquired UAVs have been deployed in the northern theatre with the focus on the 12 kilometre front which runs through Kilali, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil on the Jaffna east coast. Capable of day and night operations, the latest addition would considerably improve the SLAF’s capacity to detect an LTTE build-up against the armed forces deployed in the Jaffna peninsula.

The deployment of UAVs was of critical importance to the ongoing SLAF campaign against LTTE positions in the Vanni, sources said. The SLAF action was two-fold, they said. Operations were being carried out in support of the ground offensive and to destroy conventional capability of the enemy.

The first deployment of UAVs by the SLAF took place in 1996 during Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe’s tenure as the Commander. The MI 24 helicopter gunships and Kfirs, a modern multi-role fighter aircraft with a formidable weapons platform, too, were first acquired that year.

However, UAVs wouldn’t compensate the loss of a surveillance aircraft in the Anuradhapura attack, the sources said.

Israel remains a key armaments supplier to Sri Lanka with security forces acquiring ships, Fast Attack Craft, jet air craft and UAVs among other equipment. The two countries set up full diplomatic ties n 2000 immediately after the fall of strategic Elephant Pass base.

With the ground offensives west and east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road now threatening the very survival of the LTTE as a conventional fighting force, the Kilinochchi leadership was likely to explore the possibility of mounting a major attack, military sources said.

Despite a severe shortage of experienced cadres to face the army on the Mannar, Vavuniya and Welioya fronts, the LTTE is believed to have deployed over 1,000 cadres equipped with artillery and mortars on the northern front to meet a possible thrust across Muhamalai. The sources said that as long as the army retained 53 and 55 Divisions in the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE would have no option but to commit a sizeable force to check a ground offensive spearheaded by the elite Mechanised Brigade.

The pro-LTTE Tamilnet recently reported the deployment of what it called a new generation of UAV by the security forces over the Jaffna theatre to monitor LTTE movements by night.

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