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    South Asia
     Aug 5, 2006
Deadly arsenals dot Sri Lanka
By Richard M Bennett

Both sides in Sri Lanka's civil war are preparing for what is likely to be a bloody and prolonged resumption of the conflict.

In operations now under way, the Sri Lankan army is having to fight its way across well-fortified and heavily mined terrain. Many informed observers believe that the military remains incapable of totally defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the world's most ruthless and capable insurgent organizations.

This is how the two sides' military forces stack up.

Government forces
The Sri Lankan government forces have made considerable

improvements in organization, maintenance and both the quality and quantity of weapons in recent years.

With the limited capacity of the training facilities currently available, the armed forces have been forced to rely heavily on foreign military help. Britain, Pakistan, Australia, Malaysia and the United States have provided considerable training in the past. However, an agreement signed in 1984 brought in Israeli personnel from the security service (Shabak) and the special forces to train Sri Lankan army and police officers in modern counter-insurgency techniques.

The army
The army of some 95,000 is currently organized under a Joint Operations Command, which was established in 1985. These comprise infantry divisions and an elite commando division in Pachilaipalli.

These major units in turn comprise one air-mobile, one commando, one special forces, one independent armored, three mechanized infantry and 24 infantry brigades. The regular army is supported by a number of reserve infantry battalions and some 15,000 National Guard organized into 22 battalions.

Equipment: The army is equipped with an aging array of weapons, including the survivors of some 65 Czech T55 battle tanks, about 100 Chinese light tanks and armored fighting vehicles, BMP combat vehicles from Ukraine and Saladins from Britain.

There are more than 180 armored personnel carriers, including British Saracens, South African Buffels, Chinese Type-63, Russian BTR-152 and BTR80A.

The artillery has some 85 field guns and howitzers, including a dozen 130-millimeter and 33 152mm, as well as 16 122mm, RM-70 truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers (a modern version of the Katyusha).

Air defense has some 40 light anti-aircraft guns. Infantry support weapons include some 420 mortars and 80 AT rocket launchers.

The air force
Despite its small size and the many problems it faces - a shortage of trained ground crew, experienced combat pilots and new aircraft, spare parts and modern weapons - the air force still has a pivotal role to play in any successful counter-insurgency campaign. It is a matter of some concern to the Sri Lankan government that its strike, reconnaissance and transport capabilities remain so painfully restricted.

The air force currently has a strength of some 10,000 and operates the following:

  • 5th Fighter Squadron: five Chinese F-7BS, FT-7, two FT-5 and four MiG-27 (Katunayake Air Force Base, Colombo).

  • 10th Fighter Squadron: five (13) Israeli Kfir TC 2 and Kfir C 7 (Katunayake AFB).

  • 9th Attack Helicopter Squadron: six Russian Mi-24V and two Mi-35P (Minneriya/Hingarukgoda AFB).

  • 4th (VIP) Helicopter Squadron: 12 Bell 206 and Bell 214 (Katunayake AFB)

  • 6th Helicopter Squadron: Nine to 11 Russian Mi-17 and Mi-171 (Vavuniya AFB).

  • 7th Helicopter Squadron: 11 Bell 206 and Bell 212 (Minneriya/Hingarukgoda AFB).

  • 8th Light Transport Squadron: four Beech 200 and four Y-12 (Ratmalana AFB).

  • 2nd Heavy Transport Squadron: seven An-32B, four An-24, two C-130K, two to three HS 748 and Cessna 421 (Ratmalana AFB, Colombo).

  • 11th UAV Flight: IAI Scout unmanned drones (Vavuniya AFB).

  • 14th Squadron: K-8 (Katunayake AFB).

  • 1st Flying Training Wing: PT-6/CJ-6, Cessna 150, 8 SF 260TP - armed (Anuradhapura AFB).

    The navy
    The navy's primary mission was originally to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling across the Palk Strait, which separates Sri Lanka from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

    With the growth of the Tamil separatist movement in the late 1970s, this stretch of water became the main route for smuggling arms and personnel to the Tamil Tigers and the naval role was expanded to include counter-insurgency patrols.

    However, the navy has largely failed in this task and indeed has suffered at the hands of the small but highly effective Tamil Sea Tigers. The navy continues to be plagued by both poor performance and low morale throughout the service.

    The navy has a strength of some 18,000, with more than 50 patrol vessels, including one Chinese Parakramabahu (Haiqing class) large patrol boat; one Jayesagara patrol boat; two Chinese Lushun-class patrol boats; seven Ranarisi (Haizhui) class small patrol boats, an improved and enlarged version of the Shanghai-II class; three Shanghai-II-class small patrol boats, and nine air-cushion fast patrol boats.

    The intelligence services
    Sri Lanka boasts a large intelligence community which includes:
  • The Directorate of Foreign Intelligence, responsible for espionage and counter-terrorism abroad.
  • The Directorate of Internal Intelligence, responsible for protective anti-terrorist intelligence as well as offensive counter-terrorist intelligence within Sri Lanka.
  • The Directorate of Military Intelligence, responsible for tactical intelligence, counter-terrorism and the direction of special operations.

    The LTTE
    The Tigers are considered by many observers to be one of the more advanced and ruthless extremist organizations in the world and one that places immense emphasis on the cult of martyrdom.
    Though the Tigers reject the description of "terrorist", preferring "freedom fighter", their actions are undoubtedly those of the terrorist: assassination, crime and suicide bombings.

    It appears likely the Tamil Tigers knowingly recruit and use child soldiers as front-line troops. Despite its having agreed that it would stop conscripting child soldiers, both the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Human Rights Watch have accused it of reneging on its promises, and indeed of conscripting Tamil children orphaned by the tsunami in December 2004.

    The Tigers have also been accused of the "ethnic cleansing" of Sinhalese and Muslim residents of areas under its control and of the rape, murder and torture of those who refused to leave. The LTTE forcibly expelled the entire Muslim population of Jaffna after giving them just 48 hours' notice in 1990. The Tamil Tigers are also accused of organizing the massacre of Sinhalese villagers in the northeast, and significantly the LTTE rarely bothers to deny these appalling allegations.

    The LTTE is a well-organized, well-trained and remarkably resilient fighting force with a high morale and has shown an ability to accept heavy casualties and still continue with the operations. The Tigers also appear to have mastered the art of unconventional warfare. The LTTE also has a significant and effective overseas support structure for fundraising, weapons procurement and propaganda activities.

    Combat force
    The LTTE is generally believed to have some 12,000 well-armed fighters, though recent estimates have put the true figure at between 16,000 and 18,000. Of these, some 6,000 are in effect regular soldiers in established military units.

    There are four major fighting formations or brigades, known in Tamil as Padaipirivu, which have a strength of between 1,000 and 1,500. Two additional such units may be formed from reserves as and when required.

    Charles Anthony Brigade: This is the Vanni region personal guard unit and is believed to be composed totally of northerners. This unit may have a small number of tanks and armored vehicles captured from government forces.

    Jayanthan Brigade: used to be composed entirely of eastern Tamil, but now operates in the north and therefore recruits in that area as well.

    Artillery Brigade: Believed to have three 152mm long-range artillery, a dozen 122mm field guns and a dozen 120mm heavy mortars. The serviceability of these weapons is in some doubt, as is the regular supply of ammunition. Multi-barrel North Korean 107mm Katyusha rocket launchers are now appearing in some numbers.

    Anti-aircraft brigade: This unit has been in existence since 1998 and its weapons include surface to air missiles and 12.7mm heavy machine-guns used in a dual anti-aircraft and ground-defense role.

    Black Tigers
    These are the special-operations commandos of the LTTE, and at any one time appear to have a strength of about 300 men and women. The highly motivated cadres of this elite force are responsible for carrying out more than 260 suicide missions so far. They have also assassinated some two dozen Sri Lankan members of parliament, president Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993 and former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Sea Tigers
    The Tigers, traditionally good sailors, have become a truly formidable force since 2,000. Their fleet of fast, heavily armed attack craft have gotten the best of the much larger Sri Lankan navy on more than one occasion. The Sea Tigers carry out suicide attacks by ramming naval ships with fast boats laden with explosives, and at least four government warships have been lost to these tactics alone.

    The Sea Tigers have apparently developed a new class of armor-plated "stealth" craft with a top speed of more than 35 knots, as well as a submersible commando vessel similar to a World War II Chariot and designed for special operations within naval bases and commercial ports.

    The LTTE had established a highly effective international arms-buying network and even have a small fleet of vessels smuggling the weapons into the Tamil-held areas of northern Sri Lanka.

    The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly charged that the Tigers' ships transported illegal drugs from Myanmar, though no concrete evidence of this has been presented. However, the Tigers do seem to have close links to organized criminal groups in Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, as well as foreign terrorist groups.
    Whatever their source, the Tamil Tigers appear to have ample funds to acquire weapons from anywhere and everywhere. Modern assault rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and even man-pack SA-7 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, China and Europe.

    The Tigers purchased two US Stinger missile systems some years ago from the Afghan mujahideen, and despite the best efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency, they have apparently procured more of this deadly missile.

    The LTTE acquired some 10 tons of hexagon plastic explosive (similar to Semtex) from a company in Ukraine, 50 tons of TNT and a large quantity of electric timing caps and detonator cord. According to one estimate, as many as 12 shiploads of arms and military equipment were smuggled into Sri Lanka during 2002-04 alone.

    AFI Research provides expert information on the world's intelligence services, armed forces and conflicts. Contact rbmedia@supanet.com.

    (Copyright 2006 AFI Research. Used with permission.)

  • Black Tigers bare their fangs (Jul 12, '06)

    Colombo, Tigers slide toward open war (Apr 27, '06) 

    US promises aid against Tigers (Jan 24, '06)


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