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 Post subject: 'Flying Tigers' will face losses within months - analyst
 Post Posted: Fri May 18, 2007 6:25 pm 
Sri Lanka's 'Flying Tiger' guerilla air force will face losses within months: analyst

"Before the end of the year we will see the Tiger aircraft being brought down," Goonetilleke predicts confidently. "Otherwise there is something seriously wrong with our military."

@ LBO /17 May 2007

May 17, 2007 (LBO) – The Tamil Tiger guerilla air wing will bear losses before the year-end as the military gains technology and experience to counter the little intruders, a former Sri Lanka air force commander said.

The self-styled Tamileelam Air Force has intruded and bombed targets in government controlled areas including the capital Colombo at least three times, though authorities seem to be getting better at detecting the aircraft with each succeeding raid.

Borrowed Time

Military analysts say that Sri Lanka needs to equip its aircraft with air-to-air missiles and airborne target acquisition radar with a suitable fire control system and perhaps other facilities such as forward looking infra-red (FLIR) sensor systems to tackle the Flying Tigers.

"I do not know whether we have target acquisition radar in all our jets, but given time and money we can fill the gaps," former Sri Lanka Air Force commander Air Marshall Harry Goonetilleke told LBO.

"I am sure an assessment has already been made and we know what needs to be done, it takes some time to get equipment."

Goonetilleke says it typically takes about an year to acquire an aircraft under standard government procurement methods but equipment and such as radar could be brought in within 3-to-6 months especially if acquisition is speeded up.

"Before the end of the year we will see the Tiger aircraft being brought down," Goonetilleke predicts confidently.

"Otherwise there is something seriously wrong with our military."

Sri Lanka Air Force is already known to have French made Matra R-550 heat seeking missiles which have been fixed on the Mil Mi-24/35 helicopter gun ships though whether they are also available on the Kfir and MiG jet fighters is not clear.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka is also acquiring advanced Mikoyan and Gurevich MiG-29 aircraft, ostensibly to fight the converted trainers of the Tamil Tigers, to the amusement of some analysts.

While it looks like an overkill, they also say the Sri Lanka Air Force may acquiring a toy that it has been hankering after for a some time, which can be used for other purposes than just shooting down Flying Tigers.

Early Detection

The Sunday Times newspaper has said the aircraft that bombed petroleum facilities around Colombo at 1.50 am on the World Cup final day had been detected as early as 12.40 am from radars at the northern frontier town of Vavuniya.

The Tiger aircraft are currently exploiting the inability of ground based conventional micro-wave radar to 'see' low flying aircraft beyond 12-15 kilometers which allows them to 'hide' under the curvature of the earth.

To detect the air craft Sri Lanka needs more radars at different locations, preferably at higher elevations, and airborne radar.

Sri Lanka is getting more radar units from India. The so-called 2-dimensional radar gives a 'trace' without height, but analysts say that is good enough to vector interceptors in, as the Tiger aircraft are known to be flying low anyway.

Sri Lanka is also known to have a Beechcraft 200 HISAR surveillance aircraft, equipped with a Hughes synthetic aperture radar system which the makers Raytheon says can track low flying aircraft in addition and ground and sea targets.

"The system provides precise imagery and intelligence under almost any weather condition," Raytheon said in 2002 after a winning a 10 million dollar plus order from an 'unspecified South Asian customer.'

"During the typical modes of operation, the radar provides wide-area moving target indication, narrow sector searches, strip and spot searches, and sea surveillance."

Air Force spokesman Ajantha Silva declined to comment on the use of the Beechcraft or whether it was actively involved in recent incidents saying it was an operational matter of the air force.

Reports also said defenders at the Kolonnawa petroleum depot had tried to use an SA-16 MANPAD (Man-Portable Air-Defence System) against an oncoming Tiger aircraft but the system had not locked onto the target.

The report did not say whether they had also tried to hit the aircraft when it left the area (as opposed to when it flew in) when the internal combustion engine's exhaust of the departing aircraft would perhaps have given a better infra-red signature.

Bedcheck Charlie

The Tamil Tigers are employing a strategy used to good effect in previous conflicts, particularly in the Korean War, where slow-moving North Korean aircraft flew under American radar at night and bombed their airbases.

The low-flying aircraft, dubbed 'Bedcheck Charlie' by US airmen, slipped away into the night before the Americans could react.

The US Air Force which had much superior North American F-86 Sabre fighter jets found that the aircraft were too fast to engage the antiquated enemy aircraft in addition to lacking night-fighting capabilities.

They were embarrassed in much the same way as the Sri Lanka Air Force is now.

The North Koreans used several types of aircraft for 'Charlie' sorties, supplied by the Soviet Union.

One type was the pre-World War II Polikarpov Po-02 bi-plane which was later also acquired by Pathet Lao insurgents for their air wing, one of the many guerilla and separatist groups to own aircraft (See Third Dimension) throughout aviation history.

Yakovlev Saga

Another type was the Yakovlev Yak – 18 which entered service just after World War II.

It is not known whether the Po-02s were used in battle against Royal Lao or US elements by the communist insurgents as little information is available on the so-called 'Secret War' which was largely fought on the sly by the CIA.

But the Yak -18 has a more interesting history.

The current primary trainer of the SLAF, the Nanchang PT-06, is also derived from the venerable Yak-18 because at one time the Soviets shared their technology with the Chinese.

A Yak-18 derivative was also used by a rebel air wing much like the 'Tamileelam Air Force' from an entity like 'Tamil Eelam' that no nation recognizes.

The Abkhazian Air Force of the rebel province of Abkhazia near the former Soviet Republic of Georgia used the Yak-52, a Yak-18 derivative, to start their fledgling air wing.

The converted trainers armed with machine guns were first said to have been used operationally in 1992.

The Abkhazian Air Force posed a strong challenge to the forces of Georgia, until an uneasy ceasefire came into effect.

In the Korean war, piston-engined US Navy Vought F4U Corsair night-fighters were eventually brought in to combat the 'Bedcheck Charlie' night intruders, many of which, including some Yak -18s were then shot down.

A Navy pilot also became an 'ace' bagging five Bedcheck Charlies.

Hide and Seek

Sri Lankan air force pilots would also be looking for kills in the air.

Though the SLAF is tightlipped about any of their operations there are indications that air force jets were vectored to chase one or more returning Flying Tigers along the west coast on April 29.

Analysts say SLAF aircraft that bombed Vishvamadhu were also in air at the same time as the Tamil Tigers and the there was ample time to get more aircraft airborne.

Though a Mil Mi-24 gunship which was scrambled, it was later reported to have crashed on take-off.

Ground based observations of jet aircraft activity off Chilaw indicate that SLAF aircraft were active in chasing a returning Tiger aircraft.

Analysts say if the aircraft had target acquisition radar on board they could independently find targets, but if vectors were given from elsewhere, it would be heard by the Tiger pilots giving them a chance to take evasive action very early.

Goonetilleke says there are procedures like R/T discipline that is followed in war-time which can help minimize the other side eavesdropping.

However with each passing raid, more information is coming out, and SLAF pilots and radar operators are getting a chance to hone their skills and co-ordination, which is sometimes more valuable than technology itself.

"The aircraft seem to be coming from Kilinochchi to Mannar and around the coast and coming down along the western coast to Colombo," says Goonetilleke.

He says the aircraft may be held in underground bunkers around Kilinochchi, perhaps even around the Iranamadu air strip.

"The LTTE has artillery pieces underground and they bring them up for battle," says Goonetilleke.

"If the wings are folded they can be taken underground and brought up when they want them."

Non of the carefully-cropped pictures released by the LTTE so far has shown much more than the wing roots of their Zlin Z-143 to see if the wings had been modified anywhere through their midsections.

He says destroying the aircraft on the ground is one option.

Plus ca change

However the LTTE has for the most part managed to hide their artillery pieces despite the availability of technologies such as FIREFINDER radar which can indicate where fire is coming from.

Even if Sri Lanka acquires night fighters, analysts say it may not be a cake-walk, and the Tigers may be able survive for a longer time, depending on the skill of their pilots and the countermeasures available.

The Tigers could also have defenses similar to the successful ELTA Flight Guard system, or simpler manual counter measures, which can delay the chances of a quick kill for the Sri Lanka Air Force.

The Tigers have also not used incendiary devices so far even on oil facilities, indicating that they were perhaps secondary targets.

In addition the Flying Tigers may also be able to suffer losses and still carry on, or bring in much more sophisticated aircraft, much like another of their ilk did in 1967.

For over two and a half years, the 'air force' of the short lived break-away Nigerian province of Biafra caused heavy damage to government assets, including its air power and oil facilities.

The Flying Tigers' Zlin Z-143s are eerily reminiscent of the so-called 'Biafra Babies', a squadron of five SAAB MFI-9B trainers converted by a Swedish aristocrat for the Biafrans.

They caused heavy damage to Nigerian oil facilities and other military assets.

Like Sri Lanka's MiG 29s, the Nigerian government was given MiG-17s by friendly powers to hit back at the Biafra forces.

The 'Biafra Babies' went into Nigerian government territory despite the MiGs. Nor were they brought down by ground fire, though some MiGs were believed to have been destroyed on the ground by the 'Babies.'

In addition to the 'Bedcheck Charlies', the existence of helicopters in modern warfare as well as slow-moving, low-flying aircraft like the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt and the earlier Douglas A-1 Skyraider shows that it is not easy to knock such aircraft out of the sky as their flight envelope has inherent advantages over fast moving aircraft.

Until they are brought down however the Tigers have managed to push Sri Lanka into a costly arms race which is pounding the economy with friendly fire.

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