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An Intelligence War: Have What it Takes?

By: Deshapalana

Colombo based one of cyber mouths carried a very interesting article a couple of months ago, titled "Suit Up or Shut Up: Shooting Down the LTTE Air Force." An excellent article indeed, considering that it provides an informed perspective on aircraft and airborne combat, in comparison to a layman's grasp on these matters such as that of myself. I stumbled on this article after reading "A Question" on Manshark's Random Rants - a hilarious, well written article. Of course, my own article on today is behind the times but I have felt a need to add to the fore mentioned thought provoking articles, opting for late than never.

For sometime, there has been a pressing need for the Sri Lankan Defence Establishment to address the nature of the threat. The present outfit headed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has proven the ground combat capabilities of the Sri Lankan forces beyond much doubt with the sweeping military success in the east. Here, the emphasis has clearly been on military combat, with due territorial gains. Admittedly, in the broader sense of the present context, this is a necessary evil. Kudos to the military.

Now let me focus on the nature of the threat. The LTTE is not only a non-state outfit with proven guerrilla combat capabilities with success against both the Sri Lankan and superior Indian military, but is also perhaps the world's best organised outfit in terms of procurement. The group has a fleet of blue water merchant vessels numbering at least eleven, dubbed the K.P. Wing, ( He was arrested few days ago by Thai Police) which over the years, have been responsible for shipments of not only arms and ammunition but also spare parts and as is now plainly obvious, unassembled light aircraft. Recent investigations have unearthed the alarmingly successful fundraising activities of the LTTE abroad, including credit card scams in the United Kingdom, Singapore and Thailand. The group's de-facto naval wing the Sea Tigers, have been instrumental in providing cover for LTTE logistics boat movements, mainly in northeastern and sometimes in northwestern Sri Lankan waters. Evidently, while essential gains were being made by Sri Lankan ground troops, the Tigers have continued to re-arm and evolve over the years, from a modest band of guerrillas, to a group with the world's first and most effective de-facto naval wing and now a modest but dangerous air wing.

Clearly, the threat is transnational and multi-dimensional. So what should be done at home, to counter the threat? As I have commented before, I see military maneuvers as being essential. However, there must be recognition within the Sri Lankan Defence Establishment that this war is as much an Intelligence War as it is a military one.

To address my core issue: could the Katunayaka airstrikes have been averted? Should the Government have sent its aircraft into the skies earlier? The latter question is answered better on first quoted article than I can manage myself so I have nothing to add here. I'll deal with the former and a lead question: how could the GOSL have possibly known of this new threat?

It was the first time that the LTTE used aerial bombardment as a tactic but the threat is not new. If you were a fan of playing around on Google Earth, you would have been able to identify two LTTE airstrips in and around the Iranamadu region. The first, situated 2.6 km east of the Iranamadu tank, measures approximately 1,250 m in length, while the second, 1.7 km northeast of the Iranamadu tank, has a length of approximately 372 m. Kaiser Kobayashi, the author of first quoted article would perhaps confirm that these are sufficient lengths for light aircraft take off and landing.

Did the GOSL know what aircraft the LTTE possessed? They should have. A Sri Lankan defence correspondent has reported that a SLAF Searcher UAV conducting a reconnaissance flight over LTTE territory in the Iranamadu region, detected a light aircraft on the airstrip on both January 12 and 13, 2005. Less than a month later, on February 03, an SLAF UAV obtained thermal images of a second aircraft making a night landing on the airstrip. This data was corroborated with US intelligence to positively identify the aircraft as a Czech-built Zlin Z143. The aircraft is believed to have an approximate range of 1,335 km, making Colombo readily accessible, on an island with a total coastline of 1,340 km.

It should also have been known to the defence establishment that a low flying light aircraft would be very difficult to detect on radar, unless the radars were well positioned and in the case of the first attack, operational. If the images taken from cameras on board the SLAF's UAV on February 03, 2005 provided anything to go by, indications were that the LTTE pilots were undergoing flight training at night. Days later, on February 19, 2005, Sri Lanka Customs seized unassembled parts of a remote controlled aircraft being smuggled into the island through the international airport, purportedly as tsunami aid. Images of the latter were released through the mainstream media. Clearly, the threat was building.

One of the defence analysts in Sri Lanka warned as early as March 2005 of six operational possibilities for which the LTTE might use its air wing: political recognition, UAV operations, logistics runs, suicide missions, hijack sanctuary and a 'dirty war'. While none of these scenarios have still been put to effective known use, his analysis should have been sufficient to alert the authorities to the nature of the air threat.

All the fuss after the attacks indicates that the Government now knows what to do, or at least says that it knows what to do, in response to the LTTE air threat. If so, this is a classic case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted. What of the intelligence gathering and analysis thereof, referred to above?

This war is also an Intelligence War... and it cannot be waged unless intelligence is gathered, analysed, and possessed... so what is the level of intelligence of the Defence Sec?? Can we expect to see more proactive strategising and policy-formulation from the man at the top?

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