Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake announced on August 18 `We are very close to Kilinochchi. Which is not far from our sight,` Wickremanayake assured for Singalees. But heavy battles are continuing until now (58 days), this indicated that the Kilinochchi will not be an easy task. The battle is continuing from Vannerikkulam to Akkarayan where positions held by the Army s 58 and the 57 Division converged. Both Divisions are suffering heavy casualties. Troops are still 16 kilometres away from Kilinochchi.
According to the government statistics over 1,098 soldiers have been killed and more than 8281 injured in the battle during past nine months of this year, with the worst of the battle clearly yet to come as the military delves into the heart of Kilinochchi. By releasing figures minimising the casualties suffered by the military, without the `Missing-In-Action` and `Deserters` figures, the government has been able to hide the true fact of the war.
Signs are that the military analyst predictions are coming true. The number of soldiers killed each month in combat has seen a gradual increase over this year. By the end of Ceasefire Agreement, government had started the full scale war against LTTE. The danger was that the war begun out of miscalculation, misperception and escalation of government rather than design.
By the end of last decade, the army had nine divisions, but now it is organized into 13 divisions (thirty-six infantry brigades with more than eighty battalions) and several independent brigades. Each brigade has a number of Infantry battalions, support arms (Artillery, Engineers and Signals) and services arms (Service Corps, Engineering Services, Ordnance Corps, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) under its command, one mechanized infantry brigade, one airmobile brigade, four independent Special Forces regiment with 16 Squadrons (four battalions), one commando regiment with three battalions, five armed reconnaissance battalions, and an artillery regiment of seven battalions.
The SLAF for the last six years have slowly increasing its capabilities to counter mass waves and its support fire. Air strikes are being used to support the ground troops and as well destroy the LTTE defences and installations. But the random attacks mainly affect the innocent civilians. Now a days SLAF using guided bombs and fuel-air explosives (FAEs). Thousands of people who have lost their lives, homes, land and whole villages to the Sri Lanka armed forces still live in desperation.
During this decade, SLAF purchased four F-7GS fighter aircraft, four MiG-27M fighters, two PT-6 aircraft and two Blue Horizon II unmanned aerial vehicle, two JY-II mobile radars two AN-32B transports, four Mi-17V5 helicopters and three Mi-24/35 helicopters, and two K-8 aircraft and day/night camera for the Beech King aircraft. Further more they upgraded five Mi-24 helicopters and repaired the Y-12 transport aircraft fleet, three Mi-24 helicopters, two AN-32B aircraft and one Mi-17 helicopters. Also government intent to establish a Mi-17/Mi-24 helicopter repair facility and the proposed acquisition of two Beech King aircraft fitted with maritime surveillance radar and day/night television cameras. Sources say government strongly favours obtaining the MiG-29 but this has so far been resisted by the Ministry of Defence due to funding concerns.
In 2007 the SLN replaced almost all the ZU-23 23mm cannons on the Typhoon Mount on SLN Fast Attack Craft with the Bushmaster Mk44 30mm cannon and established a Special Boat Squadron with hundred of small speed boats. Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) and Navy (SLN) have been ably supporting the Army in the advancement.
The SLA with almost triple the amount of artillery assets and fire locating radars than it previously had during the early 2000. The most notable of the additional was the 122mm RM-70 MBRL.
In the northern operations, the government forces launched a four-pronged attack on the LTTE-controlled areas comprising full districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi and parts of Mannar and Jaffna. The plan was to gradually encircle Kilinochchi - the current LTTE`s administrative capital - from all sides. Simultaneously, the Sri Lankan Army has been deploying its `deep penetration units`, operating under Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, to ambush and at the same time gain field intelligence.
The Sri Lankan had deployed the ground forces comprise thirteen Divisions with 140,000 troops (120,000 active troops). Of these, Div. 21, 58 are in Mannar front, 51, 52, 53 and 55 are in Jaffna, 56, 57, 61 are in Vanni, 59, part of Div. 22 is in Trincomalee north, facing WeliOya, 23 in Batticaloa and the 11th Division is in Logistics, training, staff support mission. This means eleven out of thirteen Divisions are positioned facing the LTTE`s heartland comprising the Vanni and the southern parts of the Jaffna peninsula.
The army concentrated almost four divisions to the defence of Jaffna since December 1999. Batticaloa, by contrast, was held with less than half a division (Div. 23 in Welikanthai), and deployed with STF and paramilitaries. Ideally, each of these divisions should have at least seven to nine thousand troops including supporting artillery and amour units. Therefore in theory the army should have 80,000 90,000 troops deployed against the Tigers in the north currently.
The current strength of the LTTE against these divisions is not symmetrical, but the independent sources say that the hardcore manpower of the LTTE is around 12 to 15 thousand. The auxiliary forces (Makkal Padai) rose in the Vanni by the Tigers since 2000 are estimated to number at least 40 -50 thousand. Reports from the Wanni indicate that the Tigers have mobilized at lease twenty five percent of the population there in to the semi conventional militias. The strength is calculated not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of factors such as sophistication of equipment, training and morale.
Actually there is an asymmetry if one calculates the armed strength of the Sri Lankan state and that of the LTTE in terms of their military assets and access to war resources, but the quality far important than quantity.
The previous largest military offensives ever undertaken by the Sri Lankan armed forces aimed precisely at causing critical damage to the LTTE`s military assets. It was failed. If winning a war means the destruction of the enemy`s military assets and their will to fight.
In eelam war IV, again the Sri Lankan state had decided between making another concerted attempt to cause critical damage to the LTTE`s strategic assets in the north and preventing the Tigers from taking the offensive initiative.
But the LTTE take this war to another phase, that they demonstrated their air strike capability on March 26, 2007. Tamil Elam Air Force (TEAF) aircraft dropped bombs at the SLAF`s main base at Katunayake, which is close to the Bandaranaike International Airport. This was the air attack, which was recognised by Sri Lankan government as a first attack but TEAF previously targeted Palaly military base on August 2006.
After the Katunayaka air attack Sri lankan government enhanced its anti-aircraft capability with the help of India, Pakistan, China, Ukrane and some of the Western countries. But TEAF successfully targeted several economically and military important installations such as Palaly military base, Kolonnawa and Muthurajawela oil installations, Manalaru 22 Division brigade head quarters, Anuradhapuram air base, Trinco nave base, Vavunia army head quarters, Mannar Army head quarters and Kelanitissa power installation without having to worry about losses more than one year.
Small Fixed-wing aircraft operating on the modern battlefield will be exposed to anti-aircraft artillery, surface- to-air missiles, small arms fire, enemy armed helicopters and massed artillery. The shift from a low level threat environment to higher intensities indicates the need for more advances in survivability technology. Survivability of combat aircraft is directly related to minimizing the likelihood of being detected. Direct line of sight acquisition requirements can be exploited tactically by training aircrew to fly at very low level using terrain masking techniques to minimize detection.
An aircraft has five distinct signatures by which its presence can be detected: visual, acoustic, radar, infrared, and electronic. Obviously, visual detection capabilities are degraded at night or during weather that produces marginal visibility. Low altitude flight operations afford ground clutter that can degrade a radar system`s capability to track and distinguish targets. Flight profiles that off-set enemy detection capabilities often require advanced aircrew skills. Training programs that support tactical survivability concepts are essential. Acquisition and engagement may further be reduced through the use of an integrated early warning system that is tailored to sense specific threat systems.
The continuous air attack of the TEAF, gave a big surprise to the Sri Lankan government regarding their night attack capability and survivability technology. The LTTE air strike capability means the defence establishment will have to evolve counter measures to secure, military assets at sea and on land, troop transport ships, VIP residences and economically important installations. To a nation that is reeling under an economic crisis, such measures would be a costly burden.
However, India offered Indra-II radars and technicians for the Sri Lankan forces as a gift some sources say that these technicians not only help to SLAF for a electronic detection technology of the TEAF aircraft but also helping for the SLAF bombing campaigns in Vanni. It was proved on TEAF assault on Vavunia military complex on September, 2008.
The Sri Lankan state, government, leadership (President Rajapakse) and ruling party are clearly conscious unlike the UNP government of the 1980s, of the imperative for excellent relations with India. For this the best example was the presence of Indian forces at the SAARC summit, that if they were not present, the Sri Lankan armed forces would have to be diverted from the Vanni operation. But it has become fairly clear that the LTTE was not acting on behalf of any foreign power inimical to India`s interests.
From end of 2005 to September 2008, according to the government figure, the army lost more than 3,500 soldiers (but the independent sources, it was more than 5,000) and more than 20,000 wounded. Desertion plagued the army throughout the past three years. By 2008, approximately 15,000 soldiers had deserted. The SLN lost nine FACs, a supply ships and few water jets.
The SLAF lost twenty nine planes and four helicopters in this war compare to this with last decade, they lost twenty eight airplanes and nineteen helicopters (two planes and two helicopters during Eelam War II and twenty six airplanes and sixteen helicopters during Eelam War III).
Most significant event was a special LTTE Black Tiger commando s attacked on the Sri Lankan Air Force Base in Anuradhapuram. The AirForces magazine (December 2007 issue) stated that the LTTE commandos destroyed and damaged twenty seven planes (Three Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), seven PT-6, one US built Beechcraft 200HT, six Chinese built K-8, six Cessna-150s, four Italian built Siai Marchetti -Warrior) and three helicopters (one-Mi-17, two Mi-24). In addition a Bel-212 helicopter that came to the assistance of the Sri Lankan Air Force from Vavuniya also crashed and was destroyed.
Following this attack, LTTE Air Force bombed the same Sri Lankan Air Force Base. The cost of the losses at the airbase could be anything above an estimated US$ 30 million. The first air and ground combined operation of the LTTE crippled the SLAF reconnaissance and training missions.
Images of Georgian infantry moving under fire and Russian tanks on the attack show that the days of like armies fighting one another on battlefields are far from over. However, armies trained to fight conventional warfare need to quickly and effectively shift to special operations. That is the real time war tactics. For many states, Special Forces are now seen as the key tool in future conflicts, against both small group threat, as well as conventional forces. The Arurathapura air base attacks clearly showed this modern warfare tactics, which is now adapted by LTTE.
According to the military assessment, the Sri Lankan military loss in Eelam war IV was significant. Further more a brief overview of the LTTE`s current deployment potential will make it clear their strategic objective for the future battle.
The rate of LTTE military actions around in Jaffna went up.
Attacks on East, Colombo, Hampanthoddai and Moneragala shows that the LTTE maintains sufficient elite cadres in east and south to continue with its military activities.
In defending Vanni, it has mounted three counter attacks on Mugamalai, and has engaged in more interception attacks on Div 57, 58 and 59.
The LTTE keep away their most of the Special Force brigades from the defensive battle for the future counter attacks and also the external political environment is gradually changing against the Sri Lankan state.
The LTTE`s ability to comprehensively wreck the heartland of the Sri Lankan state is now well recognised. Destroying the enemy`s military assets and their will to fight is the defining aim of all wars.
The SLA invaded Vanni with the intention of drawing the LTTE forces into a decisive battle, but LTTE adopted a strategy of retreat-in-depth, pulling back rather than engaging in offensive battle with mass army, and destroying any supply lines that will be a breaking point for the future counter assault.