A Pilatus PC-7 aircraft manufactured in Switzerland
air force: More proof
Sri Lanka's 57th independence anniversary last Friday was commemorated
on a solemn note, the result of the colossal death and destruction
caused by the tsunami catastrophe. Yet the occasion created history
in military terms.
the past 56 years, during independence commemoration ceremonies,
it was the Commander of the Army who stood to the right of the Commander-in-Chief
when he or she took the salute at the armed forces parade. During
Friday's short 30-minute march past, however, the Commander of the
Navy Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri was on the right of President Chandrika
the first Navy officer to become the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS),
the senior most position in the security establishment, the honour
of standing on the right of the President and Commander-in-Chief
fell on him. That indeed was a historic first to Vice Admiral Sandagiri,
now the longest serving Commander in the Navy's 54-year history.
three days ahead of creating such history, most Sri Lankans are
unaware; Vice Admiral Sandagiri placed the City of Colombo and the
immediate suburbs under a red alert - the maximum state of preparedness
to meet a contingency by the security forces and the Police. One
would have thought security preparations for the low key Independence
Day celebrations meant ensuring the venue, Independence Square and
the city roads leading to it were well protected.
the move last Monday came after inputs from operatives of lesser
known state intelligence agencies. They reported that plans were
afoot by Tiger guerrillas to attack vital installations. One such
installation identified was the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation's oil
storage complex in Kolonnawa. They also claimed that guerrillas
were conducting reconnaissance on a number of other vital installations
in the city.
October 20, 1995 guerrillas attacked this complex. Eleven fuel storage
tanks caught fire. In a gun battle that ensued between security
forces personnel and guerrillas, three policemen, six soldiers,
seven airmen, a civilian and seven guerrillas were killed.
the wake of these intelligence warnings, the Joint Operations Headquarters
(JOH), the unified apparatus of the tri services and the police,
which Vice Admiral Sandagiri commands, sent out instructions to
the Overall Command, Colombo (OCC) about this red alert. The OCC
headed by Brigadier P. Chandrawansa is responsible for security
of the city and immediate suburbs.
official of the Joint Operations Headquarters defended Vice Admiral
Sandagiri's action. He said the red alert was a preventive measure
based on intelligence warnings since "we wanted to make sure
nothing went wrong." He added that stand down orders followed
no sooner it was felt there was no more need for it. Perhaps the
course of action the CDS took was a logical one.
there is another side to this episode. That is the question of whether
reports of possible attacks were based on any credible information.
As for reports of reconnaissance of vital installations in the city,
it is no secret the guerrillas have been carrying them out throughout
the period of the ceasefire. Some of them who engaged in the exercise
were arrested whilst others went scot free. That is an ongoing process
by the Tiger querrillas to identify targets should fighting resume.
need hardly be privy to classified or intelligence information to
discern that guerrillas planned any attacks in the city during Independence
Day ceremonies, or for that matter, on any other day without any
cause or excuse for provocation. The fact that they will not do
so now is common sense.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a signatory to the Ceasefire
Agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka. Since February 22, 2002
when it was signed, neither the guerrillas nor the security forces
have mounted unprovoked attacks that would have triggered off Eelam
War Four. This is not to say there have been no incidents but both
sides have had their own reasons for them. However, they did not
reach a flashpoint to provoke a war.
fact that such basic fundamental matters are lost on operatives
of lesser-known sections of the country's intelligence community
is sad enough. Much worse is the fact that the political leadership
of the UPFA and the bloated, self acclaimed wizards of military
strategy and tactics at the Ministry of Defence are profoundly oblivious
to these realities. The latter have been major shareholders in some
of the country's worst military debacles that led to large human
and material losses. They were also proven failures in political
tasks assigned to them. Both have been taken for a ride on every
recently, it began with reports of parting of the ways between LTTE
leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his confidant Thillayampalam Sivanesan,
better known as Soosai. He is the "Overall Commander"
of Sea Tigers, the ocean-going arm of the LTTE. It was claimed he
fled from Wanni to Singapore after a quarrel with Mr. Prabhakaran.
One official account also claimed he had gone to Norway.
reality, he flew to Singapore with the help of the Norwegian Government,
for medical treatment for a shoulder injury he sustained in 1989
in Nithiyakulam in the Wanni. That was during an ambush by the Indian
Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). Shifting shrapnel embedded near his
shoulder had caused pain around his neck. (Situation Report - October
Singapore, he was forced to remain in a hotel instead of a hospital
due to heavy pressure from intelligence authorities there. Men from
the Special Branch in Singapore were assigned to watch Soosai throughout
his stay. They made sure he went for consultations with medical
specialists, obtained treatment and hurried back to Sri Lanka. (Situation
Report - November 21, 2004).
view of official claims by the Government that he did not go for
medical treatment to Singapore, Norway's Ambassador to Sri Lanka
Hans Brattskar met Jayantha Dhanapala, Secretary General of the
Peace Secretariat, to formally clarify the position. The Sunday
Times learnt Mr. Brattskar told Dr. Dhanapala that the Government
of Norway had made available to him a comprehensive report that
proved beyond doubt that Soosai was in Singapore for treatment.
It had contained medical evidence and other documentation. A Peace
Secretariat source said yesterday "the report was not called
for by the Secretary General and nor was it handed over."
a five-day stay in Singapore and under pressure from intelligence
authorities there, Soosai arrived in Colombo on October 24, last
year. He stayed the night at the Airport Garden Hotel. It can now
be revealed that former Defence Secretary Cyril Herath tasked then
Chief of Staff of the Army, Major General Chula Seneviratne, to
meet Soosai at this hotel that night. The meeting took place. Maj.
Gen. Seneviratne has since retired. He is now the Chief of National
Intelligence (CNI), a new position where he heads the country's
now, soon after the tsunami disaster, Mr. Prabhakaran placed Soosai
in charge of relief and rehabilitation efforts along the Mullaitivu
coast, the worst hit after the Ampara district. Ever heard of someone
who reportedly "betrayed" Mr. Prabhakaran by going his
own way being taken into confidence again and vested with greater
responsibility? Has this ever happened in the LTTE? The answer is
a firm "no".
example is the reported death of Mr. Prabhakaran, again a story
floated around by the very same operatives of a lesser-known state
intelligence arm. Some in the higher echelons of the UPFA Government
believed his body was washed ashore after the tsunami disaster.
Though Mr. Prabhakaran appeared on January 23 to shake hands with
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and party, before the glare
of local and foreign media, there are still a few who disbelieve
it. To them, it was another person who resembled Mr. Prabhakaran
who had met the Norwegian peace facilitators.
cannot blame those outside the Government for being gullible about
the reported death of Mr. Prabhakaran. But, for those in the Government,
it is unforgivable. The resources available with the State would
have given them strong indications if such an event had taken place.
For example, intercepts of guerrilla radio communications would
have shown increased traffic and unusual activity. Similarly, diplomatic
channels in Colombo, UN agencies operating in the Wanni and even
the Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) would have picked up indications.
All this was lost on the gullible who wished to believe what they
them and the smaller sections of the state intelligence community
and their operatives, one disconcerting fact remains starkly clear.
After a near two decades of war, they do not know their enemy, the
LTTE. It is with that ignorant bliss that they regularly underestimate
the Tiger guerrillas and chalk out security responses. That such
a comedy of errors continues with little or no direction and even
control from those who matter, one need hardly say, does not serve
the national interest. More so if one takes into consideration the
deeply disturbing events in the recent weeks.
Sunday Times (Situation Report - December 12 2004) revealed exclusively
the existence of a newly constructed LTTE airstrip in Kilinochchi.
This report was accompanied by a satellite image of the runway.
Thereafter, The Sunday Times (Situation Report - January 16) also
exclusively revealed how an Israeli built Searcher Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle (UAV) spotted two aircraft on the ground in the new airstrip.
Later, when printed photos obtained from the UAV video, shown to
President Kumaratunga during a meeting of the National Security
Council prompted her to remark that she had been hit by a second
tsunami. (Situation Report - January 23, 2005).
Monday, Defence Secretary retired Major General Asoka Jayawardena
raised issue over the presence of aircraft with Chief of Staff of
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Wagn Winkel. The head of
the SLMM retired Norwegian Major General Trond Furuhovde, the SLMM
said last week, has undergone surgery at the Apollo Hospital in
Colombo for cancer. I wish Maj. Gen. (retd.) Furuhovde a speedy
part in the dialogue with SLMM officials last Monday were Vice Admiral
Sandagiri, Chief of Defence Staff, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Shantha
Kottegoda, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Donald Perera and Major
General (retd.) Jayantha Ranaweera, Military Liaison Officer in
the Ministry of Defence.
Norway's Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr Brattskar and Mr Winkel flew
to Kilinochchi for a meeting with LTTE leaders. They are expected
to apprise the guerrilla leaders of the concerns expressed by the
just two days after the Government raised issue with the SLMM, there
was more disturbing news. An Israeli built Searcher UAV on a mission
over the Wanni on Thursday night videoed an aircraft touching down
in the newly built airstrip. This was not only confirmation that
the LTTE possessed aircraft. It also dispelled doubts entertained
by some sections of the Air Force that the aircraft spotted on the
ground by the UAV were nothing but dummies. Here was proof that
the LTTE had without doubt acquired air capability. That gives them
the advantage of a “first strike capability” if hostilities
to these concerns were initial reports that the aircraft was either
a Swiss built Pilatus PC-7 or PC-9 aircraft. "We strongly believe
it could be a Pilatus PC-7. All indications and the information
we have received point to that," a highly placed source told
The Sunday Times. The source spoke on grounds of anonymity.
Pilatus PC-7 is a Turbo Trainer aircraft. Since 1978 when production
began, close to 500 aircraft have been sold. The majority are still
in service today. The aircraft's capability to cover all aspects
of basic training including aerobatics, instrument, tactical and
night flying, has convinced air forces of a number of countries
to select the PC-7 to train professional military pilots. They include
the air force in Angola, Austria, Bolivia, Bophuthatswana, Botswana,
Brunei, Chad, Chile, France, Guatemala, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico,
Myanmar, the Netherlands, South Africa, Suriname, Switzerland, United
Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Sunday Times today publishes photographs obtained by the UAV showing
the LTTE aircraft on the ground on their newly built airstrip in
Iranamadu, Kilinochchi. Also published on this page is a photograph
of the Pilatus PC-7 aircraft that is manufactured in Switzerland.
a trainer aircraft, the Pilatus PC-7 has hard points under the wing
to carry gun pods, rocket pods or bombs. They could be fired from
inside the cockpit. In fact, this was one of the aircraft considered
for procurement by the Air Force years ago. Instead they opted for
Brazilian built Siai Marchetti which had an under sling load of
150 kilogrammes. They also procured the Chinese built F-7 interceptor
jets usually meant for air to air roles. However, the F-7s were
modified for the Air Force to carry out air to ground combat roles
with an under sling load of 1,000 kilogrammes.
Pilatus PC-7, powered by a Canadian built Pratt & Whitney turboprop
engine can carry a maximum ordinance load of 1040 kilogrammes -
larger than the load of Siai Marchettis or the F-7s. Its maximum
take off weight is 2,700 kilogrammes and maximum landing weight
is 2,565 kilogrammes.
for a crew of two, the Pilatus PC-7 has a range of 1,200 kilometres
without drop tanks. The ferry range with drop tanks is 2,630 kilometres.
Its maximum endurance is four hours and forty minutes. Though the
LTTE's newly built runway is 1,250 metres, the takeoff run of Pilatus
PC-7 at maximum is 780 metres. The landing run is 505 metres at
use of a massive load of explosives by this aircraft attempting
to attack a target could be fatal. Any bomb, on an average, carries
at least the third of its components in the form of explosives.
With a capability to carry an ordinance load of 1,040 kilogrammes,
the consequences of such an attack could be unimaginable. This is
in marked contrast to some 50 kilogrammes of explosives used in
the the LTTE attack on the Central Bank building on January 31,
six civilians and a policeman were killed in this incident. All
buildings on either side of Janadipathi Mawatha near the Central
Bank, including Ceylinco House, American Express, ABN Bank, Sri
Lankan Airlines were among those damaged.
has now come to light that the LTTE had engaged in hectic preparations
before establishing its air wing and thereafter acquiring an air
capability. Early last year, posters calling for recruits to the
new air wing had been placed at strategic points in the Wanni.
before that, some pilots and crew had been trained in flying schools
abroad. The trainees had posed off as amateur flyers. At least two
pilots and five crew members were among those who had been killed
when the Sri Lanka Navy sank an LTTE trawler in the North Eastern
high seas on March 10, 2003. The trawler was suspected to be inducting
weapons through the North-East coast. (Situation Report - March
development, all during a ceasefire that turns three years in the
next 16 days, is no doubt worrying. One can only hope the mandarins
in Sri Lanka's defence establishment spent more time on evolving
effective counter measures. That is by taking at least some time
off from vigorously pursuing their efforts to hunt down sources
for The Sunday Times stories or chasing Black Label Scotch whisky.
Otherwise they would once again badly let down a nation looking
forward to their protection for their well being. History is replete
with many examples. One only hopes it does not repeat itself betraying
an entire nation once more.