Last Thursday`s sea battle off Vettilaikerni that led to the aerial attack on the LTTE airfield at Iranamadu underscored the urgent need to prepare for any eventuality, military officials said.
Although the navy managed to save passenger ferry Pearl Cruise II carrying over 700 unarmed troops to Jaffna peninsula, the confrontation revealed what a well informed source called `operational difficulties` that have to be rectified urgently.
With the Oslo-arranged four-year cease-fire agreement now widely believed to be in tatters the government is deliberating ways and means of enhancing the firepower of security forces. Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga accompanied Defence Secretary Colonel (retd) Gotabaya Rajapakse and the president`s elder brother Basil to Navy Headquarters as the navy top brass called in reinforcements to thwart the looming suicide attack on the troop ship.
Although four Fast Attack Craft (FACs) repulsed the attack despite losing one craft (P 418) carrying 17 sailors and an army radio operator, officers claimed that they would have carried out a better counter attack if they had a better fire control weapons system. The plan to upgrade the existing Israeli-built fire control weapons system by changing the 23mm cannon with a 30mm has been long overdue, they said.
The upgrading would have given a clear advantage to the FACs as it would have improved the range. The change is yet to be materialised as a Presidential Commission probes possible irregularities in the lucrative deal. The plan involved upgrading the fire control weapons system of 30 FACs.
Navy Headquarters on September 4, 2003 said the upgrading of the weapons system was a long-felt need. Well informed sources said they were desperate to upgrade the system amidst growing indications that the LTTE would step up attacks.
Government sources expressed the belief that the recent EU condemnation of Tigers against the backdrop of the five-nation Nordic truce monitoring mission taking an unprecedented tough line would pressure them to cease attacks.
`But we have to think of the worse case scenario,` another official said while emphasising the pressing need to prepare for a sustained offensive by the LTTE.
The navy had lost three FACs in the recent past.
The airforce, too, is having its share of problems with MiG 27s grounded due to long overdue servicing. The Sunday Island learns that the government is in the process of negotiating with Russia regarding this. The MiGs had been acquired in 2000.
Well informed sources said that Thursday`s air attacks on Sea Tigers off Vettilaikerni and the raid on the LTTE airfield would have produced better results if the air force had been on a higher level of readiness.
The air strikes mounted hours after the assassination bid on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka had been marred by a single case of accidental bombing of an area dominated by security forces in Muttur.
The Sunday Island learns that authorities are also aware of the need to enhance the night flying capabilities of fighter pilots. Army top brass have said that they needed time to prepare troops for major operations.
The government Friday claimed that it carried out a successful air strike on LTTE airfield at Iranamadu. `The Air force conducted a limited operation to deter further attacks by the LTTE. The operation was confined to an already identified illegal aviation facility under construction,` government spokesperson Anusha Palpita said.
`The government on several occasions brought to the attention of the international community at the highest level the grave security threat posed by this illegal facility not only to Sri Lanka but also to the region. This facility also violates national and international civil aviation regulations,` he said.
According to him the LTTE prevented the SLMM from visiting the facility. `The SLMM ruled the LTTE`s denying of access to this facility as a violation of the CFA,` he said, urging tangible international action against the LTTE.
`The Tigers have mocked the Japanese and the rest of the international community with this major attack a day after Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi visited Kilinochchi,` said Palitha Kohona, head of Peace Secretariat.