Contrary to reports, Monday`s recovery of a heat seeking surface to air missile, believed to be of East European origin, was facilitated by an intelligence operation, an authoritative military official said.
Acting on specific information, the SLA had found the 22.7 pound SAM-14 (aka Strela 3) buried in the Thoppigala area. `It had been buried separately,` the official said, asserting that a routine search operation would not have unearthed the weapon.
But the SLA did not find the gadget needed to activate the missile. The official expressed belief that the LTTE cadre tasked to fire the weapon or a senior cadre would have retained the firing mechanism.
The recovery was made in the backdrop of UNP allegations that the SLA had allowed approximately 1,000 LTTE cadres to escape with their arms, ammunition and equipment on the orders of the political leadership.
The SLA pointed out that this was evidence that there was absolutely no truth in the UNP claims. The quantity and value of recoveries made in the East over the past several months were the biggest in the entire Eelam war, the SLA emphasised.
Strela 3 is the successor to the SAM 7 (Strela) It has a larger warhead (6.5 pounds, twice that of the SAM-7). The IPKF recovered a SAM-7 from an LTTE hideout during its deployment here. The LTTE had shot down several SLAF aircraft including an Argentine-built Pucara deployed purely on anti-insurgency role.
The SAM 14 has a maximum range of 4.5 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 9,900 feet. The seeker of the SAM 14 was designed to go after the smaller engines on slower moving helicopters.
The official claimed that the LTTE had three SAM-14 missiles in the East. They had fired one missile at an SLAF aircraft during the eastern campaign, he said, claiming that one missile remained in the enemy`s hands after Monday`s detection.
The US recently thwarted an LTTE bid to acquire shoulder-fired surface to air heat seeking SA-18 missile, also of Russian origin.
The SLA has recovered a sizeable quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment from the LTTE since the launch of major ground operations last July. But big recoveries had been made only after the fall of the Vakarai region by late January. Altogether about 20 big guns including two 152 mm artillery pieces and over a dozen 120 mm and 81 mm mortars and one multi barrel rocket launcher had been found at different locations along with a large quantity of explosives, a range of ammunition and mines.
In the absence of a hostile missile environment the SLAF had wrecked havoc on the LTTE in the northern and eastern provinces. A senior SLAF official yesterday said that they would gradually step up pressure on LTTE bases in the Vanni region.