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Sunday, 15 May 2011





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Sri Lanka Navy: Riding a wave of success

If we can remember the date August 1, 2006, four days after the commencement of the Mavil Aru humanitarian operation, we can still remember the way LTTE artillery guns installed at Sampur were directed at the Trincomalee Naval Base while attempting to launch a suicide attack on the 'Jet Liner', ferrying unarmed soldiers going on leave.

The prime target of the LTTE on the subsequent attack on Muttur, Thoppur, and Kattaparichchan Army detachments immediately after midnight of August 1, 2006 was to paralyse the activities of the Trincomalee harbour which had become a major obstacle for their operations both in the North and in the East.

The LTTE was aware that it was only through crippling Navy activities in Trincomalee that they could achieve any success in their terror operations. That shows how LTTE considered the Sri Lanka Navy as a threat to their terror operations connecting the North and the East. That was why the LTTE whilst trying to open a land route connecting the East and the North through the jungle terrain made desperate attempts to get rid of the Navy presence in the Eastern seas to achieve the same terror objective.

Almost three years after the end of fighting both in the East and the Wanni theatre, the ground troops came out with a exciting revelations about the 'experiments' of the LTTE.

Many of their experiments were not merely for sea transportation but also aimed at causing heavy damage to the Naval ships and boats that had become a major obstacle for them.

The suicide boats laden with more than 2000 kgs of explosives found in the coast of Chalai and Chundikulam very clearly prove that they had major plans to disrupt the supplies between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai harbour which was the only lifeline to the Security Forces and the civilians at that time.

But the Navy could accomplish its role by ferrying all the troops going on leave and returning from leave in the Jaffna peninsula by the 'Jet Liner' and supplying what the entire Jaffna peninsula needed at that time by sea.

The LTTE was very well aware that it was only through sea supplies that they can keep their supplies intact.

So they were ready to do whatever possible to cause maximum damage to the Navy. When they failed in their sea confrontations they tried their best to harm the Navy personnel on land.

The suicide truck explosion in Digampotana in October 2006 bears testimony on how the LTTE planned to kill sailors in desperate moves.

Therefore, when ground troops continued with their face to face battles in the land the Navy had to operate in the sea with heightened preparation to face unforeseen terror plans targeting their ships and boats in mid sea.

Facing all these suicide squadrons of the LTTE the Sri Lanka Navy was brave enough to protect the Motherland by preventing almost all their terror operations but with a lot of sacrifices and hard work to become an equal partner in the victory against LTTE terror.

To achieve that objective the Sri Lanka Navy, made an innovative approach to the emerging threat from the sea-going wing of the LTTE.

First the Navy had to face the LTTE suicide boats in the sea, which they compared to an intelligent guided torpedo, but unlike a torpedo can be re-launched and cannot be neutralised by any electronic counter measures and is capable of delivering a lethal punch ensuring a decisive outcome.

The Navy geared up to meet the challenge by increasing its fleet units, acquiring more effective weapons and better technology, to fight the enemy more effectively out at sea.

The Navy understood that it would require Fast Attack Craft (FAC) which could achieve about 30 knots and carry medium calibre weapons to counter the threat from Sea Tigers.

A few FACs were initially purchased from Israel to meet this requirement in 1985 and at the latter stage of the humanitarian operation the number was increased drastically to meet the requirements and the FAC squadron was restructured to face the threat effectively.

The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) of the Sri Lanka Navy, established in the mid 1990s with the attacks launched in the Jaffna Lagoon against terrorists by the Navy, made a great contribution to the Naval operations by fighting the enemy on land and at sea bravely and destroying formidable enemy targets successfully.

The Navy could deal with asymmetrical warfare at sea with FACs and combined deployment of SBS and the Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS). The deployment of the SBS and RABS yielded excellent results minimizing damage to the Navy.

But confronting the Sea Tigers in the seas was not the only objective of the Navy.

They had to think of new strategies other than confronting Tiger boats disguising as fishing trawlers transporting arms and ammunition.

The far-sighted strategy of the Navy to go after the floating warehouses of the LTTE in the deep seas thousands of miles away from Sri Lanka became one of the turning points in Sri Lanka's effort of defeating LTTE terrorism.

The SLN with limited blue water capability began intercepting the LTTE ships and their efforts paid dividends as they were able to destroy seven such ships which were carrying a large stock of weapons, mortars, artillery ammunition, and parts of light aircraft, diving equipment, torpedoes, and speed boats, Electro Optic devices, under water vehicles, night vision devices and explosives during 2007 alone.

Those ships which were not flying any flag and did not carry proper International Maritime Organization (IMO) identification numbers were engaged in international waters off the shores of Sri Lanka.

What is more important in Naval history in this regard is the Navy's performance of a very difficult task with great dedication by not waiting till arms smugglers came closer but going out to destroy those rogue ships in the high seas using special strategies based on long-term planning and careful analysis of information gathered over a period of time utilizing the Navy's limited resources to the maximum.

With the destruction of these three vessels, the Navy prevented the LTTE terrorists from receiving their military supplies which they desperately needed.

. Kyoi destroyed south of Dondra on 28th February 2007

. Seiyoo destroyed south east of Arugambay on 18th March 2007

. Destroyed south east of Arugambay on 18th March 2007

. Manyoshi destroyed south east of Dondra on 10th September 2007

. Seishin destroyed south east of Dondra on 10th September 2007

. Koshia destroyed south east of Dondra on 11th September 2007

. Matsushima destroyed south of Dondra on 07th October 2007

The sailors and the officers who fulfilled this task on behalf of their Motherland were given due recognition by the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Security Forces Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Eastern Naval headquarters in Trincomalee.

But achieving that objective alone was not enough in the long felt objective of eliminating LTTE terrorism fully. The Navy had to be on constant vigilance in the sea surrounding the island to ensure that LTTE received no arms and ammunition and also to see that no Tiger cadre escaped from the battlefront.

To achieve this objective effectively the Sri Lankan Navy in the period from 2005 to 2010 deployed network centric sensors such as surveillance radars, electro optic surveillance systems, automatic identification system (AIS), high frequency surface wave radar (HFSWR) and marine small target trackers around the Island to carry out effective maritime surveillance.

The Navy's commitment was not only for the humanitarian operation. It had to ensure that all the commercial activities based in harbours were taking place as usual without disrupting the economic activities in the country. Therefore it played a crucial role in securing the harbours, especially the Colombo port and the Trincomalee Harbour.

With all these commitments protecting territorial waters of the country going beyond its traditional roles, the Navy undertook security on land as well when the Army needed to expand their presence in the land.

A large area in the Trincomalee District was protected by the Navy. Similar large areas in the Wanni and from Vavuniya to Mannar were made secure through the deployment of Naval troops.

As the final phase of the battle shifted to the north of Mullaitivu the pressure on the Navy was at its height as there were speculations that Tiger leader Prabhakaran would flee by sea since the only means available for him to escape was by sea.

Preventing such an escape was the biggest challenge and the Navy made it an impossible task for the LTTE by successfully deploying a well-fortified Naval barricade utilizing its vessels and craft with all Naval personnel working with dedication and the commitment.

With all these commitments in the sea, the sailors and officers engaged in humanitarian work when on civilians started escaping Tiger grip starting from the early part of January.

The Navy helped the ICRC to evacuate civilian casualties caused by the LTTE ship and also helped the civilians fleeing from boats to reach safer destinations.

Today, almost two years after the defeat of LTTE terrorism the Sri Lanka Navy continues its role of defending its territorial waters with the same commitment as alerted by the presence of the LTTE's international network as well as its remnants in Sri Lanka and their collaborators' attempts to revive their sinister campaigns. Therefore, the Navy is expanding its role along with the new challenges faced by the island nation in the post conflict scenario.

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