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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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).
defense has some 40 light anti-aircraft guns.
Infantry support weapons include some 420 mortars
and 80 AT rocket launchers.
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
The air force currently has a
strength of some 10,000 and operates the
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
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).
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
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
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
services Sri Lanka boasts a large
intelligence community which includes:
The Directorate of Foreign Intelligence,
responsible for espionage and counter-terrorism
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Weapons 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.
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.