Tigers enhance firepower
Acquires sophisticated, long range weaponry as the military
prepares counter measures for a decisive showdown
Eelam War III saw the LTTE use artillery fire effectively. How
effective the Tigers were, could be gauged by the success of Unceasing
Waves. The LTTE routed the security forces in 2001, when the military
launched Operation Agni Keeli (Rod of Fire) to recapture the southern
part of the Jaffna Peninsula and the Elephant Pass Base, lost to the
Tigers months before.
At that time, the LTTE was believed to have had at least one 152mm long
range artillery gun, one 130 mm artillery gun and two 122 mm field guns.
A 152 mm artillery gun was taken from Elephant Pass, while the two 122
mm guns were secured from the military from Mullaitivu in a debacle. So
much for the LTTE’s artillery power then!
As for mortar launchers, the LTTE had 50 120mm heavy mortars, 81mm and
Today, in the current phase of ‘Eelam War IV’, the LTTE has in its
possession 22 122mm artillery guns, a couple of 152mm long-range guns,
80 120mm mortar launchers and dozens of 81mm and 60mm launchers. It is
also suspected to have around half-a-dozen 130mm artillery guns. Almost
all the LTTE artillery guns are of Chinese make.
What is more, in a shocking revelation, it is learnt that the LTTE has
acquired 120mm mortar tubes, which are used to pack mortar bombs from
the same serial number as that of the military.
A high level inquiry has been launched to ascertain how the LTTE has
bought tubes from the very same shelf from which the military obtained
them. Whether the same agent has facilitated the 120mm mortar tubes for
the government as well as the LTTE, is also being investigated.
It is unlikely that the army had parted with part of its stock, as the
inventory would quickly rule out any such doubts.
With such a sophisticated arsenal in its inventory, the LTTE’s artillery
power is bound to define ‘Eelam War IV’, as far as the Tigers are
The military was spared the humiliation of losing the entire Jaffna
Peninsula in 2001, thanks to Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL).
However, the LTTE too has a smaller version of the MBRLs. It has
multiplied its stock of mortar launchers and mortars, artillery guns and
shells to fight the war for a considerable length of time.
These huge guns were purchased, shipped, unloaded on land and carried to
the jungles during the ceasefire and the LTTE-UNF peace process. When
shipments of artillery shells and mortars were detected, they blasted
their ships for fear of the contraband falling into government hands.
And more importantly, they would lose face before the international
It is clear that the LTTE had used the truce and the goodwill of the
government and the international community, during peace talks, to
re-equip itself, mainly artillery. This was done to effectively take on
the military in this fourth and decisive phase of the war.
A very limited amount of artillery was used by the LTTE during the
military’s operations to wrest control of the east, for fear of losing
these valuable resources, especially, in the event the forces gained
control of the region.
The security forces did well to wrest control of the east. Yet, the best
arsenal had been oiled and stacked away for the big battles ahead. They
are already being put to good use in the second stage of this crucial
The LTTE managed to secure artillery guns during the truce, but could
not go for tanks. Hence, they went for the next best option to develop
its anti-tank regiment. The Anti -Tank Regiment underwent vigorous
training during the truce and LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran himself
presided over a passing out parade.
In the two-hour high intensity Muhamalai battle on October 11 last year,
the army lost two of its Czech built T 55 battle tanks and four or five
Ukranain built BMP combat vehicles.
The LTTE also tested its light aircraft more than a couple of times in
Colombo and in the north, to add another dimension to its war.
Unconfirmed reports have it that the LTTE is in possession of an MI 24
gunship, which could support the cadres in ground combat.
The security forces, no doubt, have captured from the LTTE, the most
number of weapons during the past year, than ever before, in the
24-year-old separatist war. The Nation listed the weapons last week, but
would like to draw the attention of the defence authorities to the
anti-aircraft gun of the SU 14 type found in Thoppigala. The authorities
would do well to find out whether the shelf life of the weapon is
An LTTE cadre who surrendered to the security forces, disclosed that the
LTTE had brought three surface-to-air missiles to the Eastern Province
and one was used to shoot a helicopter previously, while the other was
removed by a group of fleeing Tigers. The security forces launched a
massive search operation to track down the LTTE cadres carrying the
missile, but to no avail.
Security forces believe that the missile launcher which is capable of
shooting aircraft at an altitude of 20,000 feet, was a Russian make. The
missile, worth over Rs 2.8 million, could be shoulder fired. The LTTE
had shot down several aircraft and helicopters using the anti-aircraft
missile. The LTTE, using anti-aircraft missiles, destroyed the Mi 24
helicopter that crashed into Kokilai Lagoon and two Avro aircraft flying
over Palali in 1995.
While the Avros, Puccara and several Mi 24s were successfully targeted
in a previous Eelam War, the LTTE destroyed Kfirs, MiGs and K8s in the
Katunayake ground attack in 2001.
However, in this phase of the war, so far, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF)
has called the shots, given the frequency and accuracy in taking LTTE
targets, including assets such as training bases, intelligence hideouts,
military camps, boatyards and Sea Tiger bases.
The Kfirs and MiG 27s have been responsible for the unprecedented
devastation faced by the LTTE, which could not use the SU 14 type to
bring down these high altitude aircraft. So, the LTTE acted fast and
were going in for the SU 18s, when they were stopped in their tracks by
US sleuths in an undercover sting operation last year.
When that failed, they actually used the light aircraft in their
possession to bomb the Katunayake Air Force Base, narrowly missing the
Kfir squadron. The SLAF has been spared by some mysterious ways, to
remain the biggest challenge to the LTTE’s arsenal. The SLAF depends on
deep penetration by the Special Forces to give the coordinates of the
LTTE gun positions as well as electronic intelligence obtained from UAVs.
The Sri Lankan military has been able to obtain mortar, artillery and
rocket locating equipment. The AN/TPQ- 36 Firefinder weapon locating
radar has been got down at a huge cost. (See box story for details). The
military means business and is equal to the challenge posed by the
Tigers. Once the direction is located, counter artillery bombardment
could be made use of to neutralise enemy fire.
The LTTE has successfully used its artillery power to target the
military on several occasions in the north and also in the east, during
operations. According to available literature, the AN/TPQ-36,
manufactured by Raytheon, is an artillery, rocket and mortar locating
radar, designed as a replacement for the AN/MPQ-4 and older technology
weapon locating radars.
The artillery guns seem to be the LTTE’s latest assets that could change
the equation in this phase of the war.
At the inception, the LTTE claimed the undeclared ‘Eelam War IV’ would
be decided on the seas but, that was not to be. The Sea Tigers and their
FACs were destroyed by the navy in deep sea duels. The SLAF added to
their woes by destroying Sea Tiger bases, boats and boat manufacturing
The threat of LTTE aircraft still lingers but, attempts at causing
destruction, proved futile, as the targeting was in the night. A suicide
attempt, however, was more likely to be accurate and the authorities are
alive to this option.
Firefinder weapon locating radar
Location of hostile artillery, rockets and mortars by the AN/TPQ-36
is completely automatic. The system electronically scans the horizon
over a 90° sector several times a second, intercepting and automatically
tracking hostile projectiles, then computing along the trajectory back
to the origin. The co-ordinates and altitude of the weapon are then
presented to the operator. Automatic location is so rapid that the
co-ordinates of the firing weapon are normally with the operator before
the enemy round lands.
In addition to its ability to locate artillery, a number of other
modifications have been incorporated. The normal 90° sector can be
expanded to as much as 360º for use in insurgency operations. The radar
can also provide information on the hostile weapon’s target by
extrapolating the trajectory to the impact point, allowing the
information to be used in the priority of return fire.
The fire direction centre can use the impact and predict data provided
by the radar in friendly fire mode to conduct adjust-fire missions.
The location of artillery at ranges beyond the capability of the
AN/TPQ-36 is provided by the AN/TPQ-37, the other radar that makes up
the Firefinder System. Using a different computer software, the same
operations shelter could be used for either Firefinder radar. Depending
on the need, the government would have to go for the latest type to
track distant artillery. The AN/TPQ-37 radar is optimised to locate
long-range low-angle weapons. For planning purposes, it has a minimum
system range of three kms and a maximum range of 30 kms for artillery
(50 kms for rockets). The AN/TPQ-37 will also locate short-range
high-angle weapons, complementing the AN/TPQ-36.
Highlights of the AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder weapon locating radar
•The AN/TPQ-36 weapons-locating radar section has a crew of eight.
•Its primary mission is to locate enemy mortar, artillery and rocket
firing positions. This radar is optimised to detect high-angle indirect
fire. It is equally capable of developing accurate grid locations of
indirect fire units using low-angle fire.
•As a secondary mission, the friendly fire mode can be used to observe
rounds and perform high-burst, datum-plane or impact prediction
Madhu Road closed despite ceasefire
Army thwarts Tigers’ unholy exploitation of
While a temporary cessation of hostilities prevails in the Madhu
region, in observance of the annual Madhu Matha Feast on August 15, it
is learnt that the military has changed its plans and decided to that
pilgrims use the Uliyankulam Road, instead of the main Madhu Road.
Accordingly, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the road would be kept open, while
the authorities have requested that the road be opened from 6 a.m. to 6
p.m. in the evening, on the days before the feast.
The Defence Ministry had given a written assurance on July 23, for the
Madhu Road to be used from August 10 to 17. The LTTE had also given a
written assurance early this week, in a letter handed over to Mannar
Bishop Rayappu Joseph on Thursday.
However, on Wednesday the new Security Forces Commander Wanni Major
General Jagath Jayasuriya informed Bishop Joseph that the military was
unable to open the Madhu Road but, would maintain a cessation of
hostilities, to enable pilgrims take the Uliyankulam Road to the shrine.
The road to the shrine is inconsequential. What matters most is that
both sides have shown respect to the 450-year shrine and have vouched
not to obtain any tactical advantage whatsoever, during the festive
days, culminating on Wednesday. Innocent people should not be targeted
by either side, as this would amount to a crime of crimes.
The Security Forces suspect the Tigers would use the cessation of
hostilities to strengthen themselves militarily. The LTTE’s artillery
attack on the security forces returning from Thoppigala, from the banks
of the Madhu Reservoir, the military feels was a clear indication of the
It is suspected that the LTTE plans to provoke the security forces to
retaliate and, in the process, attack the holy Madhu Shrine to gain
sympathy from the international community. The military also claims that
the LTTE had installed their artillery guns approximately 200 metres
from the Madhu Church, precluding possible aerial attacks or
multi-barrel fire on the area.
Under the circumstances, the government has felt the need to bring the
area around Madhu Church under government control.
On receiving intelligence that LTTE activities north of Mannar, were
escalating, the air force destroyed the LTTE’s main arms storage at
Kandachchikuda on Wednesday. It was established that the LTTE had
stationed cadres with artillery guns in the area, in an attempt to
capture Mannar. On Wednesday, several LTTE targets on the Wanni forward
defence lines (FDL) at Palamottai and Pallikulam areas, came under
attack by the Special Brigade. Six LTTE cadres were killed in the
confrontation. Capture of the areas south of Mannar, including Arippu,
Silawathurai, and Kondawitch, is considered strategically more important
than even Mannar.
Another challenge before the security forces is to prevent the LTTE from
overrunning the Weli Oya FDLs, to ensure protection of the Sinhala
villages in the area. The government has decided to erect bunkers for
each house in the endangered villages of Weli Oya, Ethawetunuwewa,
Kalyanapura and Padaviya with a population of 398 families. The
estimated cost of the project is Rs. 12.8 million. However, the farmer
community in the area cannot be expected to spend their day in the
bunkers and abandon their fields.
A guard post at Mahamaylankulam Sinhala village came under LTTE attack
on Wednesday. A home-guard and a soldier were killed and several others
at the guard post injured in the attack. The bodies of LTTE cadres
killed in the retaliatory fire, were recovered during a search operation
the following day. A home-guard died when Ranabapura and Janakapura came
under LTTE mortar fire on Wednesday. The security forces are now bent on
capturing the LTTE FDLs, to prevent artillery attacks on civilians. The
security forces recovered arms, ammunition and communication equipment
belonging to the LTTE recently, reminiscent of the period prior to the
attack on Jaffna last year.