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Sea Tigers, stealth technology and the North Korean connection
 
 
 
On 23 October 2000 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked and sank a Sri Lanka Navy operated passenger vessel in Trincomalee harbour. A video of the operation, analysed by Jane's Intelligence Review, reveals the use of stealth technologies in LTTE boat design and the procurement of weapons from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
 
 
Copyright 2005 Jane's Information Group
 
Sea Tigers, stealth technology and the North Korean connection

By Roger Davies

On 23 October 2000 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked and sank a Sri Lanka Navy operated passenger vessel in Trincomalee harbour. A video of the operation, analysed by Jane's Intelligence Review, reveals the use of stealth technologies in LTTE boat design and the procurement of weapons from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

In the video, LTTE Sea Tigers can be seen using a variant of the 107mm Katyusha rocket, fired from a lightweight tripod, in pairs. This is believed to be a variant of the Chinese Type 63 107mm launcher. The Chinese produce a single tube version called a Type 85 fired from a man-portable tripod, but the North Koreans produce a double version. This is quite a rare weapon. The missile weighs about 18kg and has a range of about 8km.

In the engagement the Sea Tiger Strike Group appears to be firing at the naval base some 2-3km away. Fifteen rounds are seen being fired in the video, but the video is not continuous so there were possibly more. These weapons are ideal for insurgent terrorist campaigns, such as the LTTE's in Sri Lanka, and provide the terrorists with a form of artillery support that can be transported, hidden and easily used. The rockets are fired electrically from a few yards distance by simply connecting up a battery. Later in the video a Tamil Tiger is seen with a burnt face, possibly from standing too close to a rocket as it fires.

Also shown on the video are a number of 60mm mortars. Like the 107mm rockets these mortars can be broken down and carried relatively easily. It is not clear from the video if the mortars are of North Korean origin, but it would be no surprise if they were. One of the crews serving the two mortars in the video appears to be fairly professional, keeping up a high rate of fire despite incoming fire to their exposed position. The other crew appear less well trained.

The video also shows eight distinctively different 'stealth speedboats'. Without a hands-on technical inspection it is difficult to judge the efficacy of the stealth design, but the basic principles of stealth are adhered to in many respects. There also appears to be some steel plate armour on some of the boats.

The speedboats are powered by Johnson 200, or similar Yamaha, engines and are likely to be able to maintain a top speed of over 35kt in calm water. Each appears to be crewed by two Black Tiger suicide crew. The explosive content (apart from 122mm artillery shells stuck to the side deck of two of the boats) is not seen. The origins of the 'stealth' craft are the subject of much debate, and there are two schools of thought among intelligence analysts.

Some analysts believe the design and construction to be indigenous to Sri Lanka. They point out that the video shows several designs and that the Tamil population are by tradition expert boat builders. Furthermore the Sea Tigers have utilised speedboats as suicide weapons over the past few years. The frame on the front of the boat is described as holding spikes that fasten the boat to its target once they have collided.

The other view argues that the craft were primarily designed as 'stealth speedboats' and that the 'suicide' elements such as explosives have been added later. On two variants, 122mm artillery shells have been fixed to the side of the boat, limiting the effectiveness of the anti-radar design. The unusual frame on the front also detracts from the crafts' otherwise stealthy nature. Furthermore, the wiring for both the frame and the shells leads over the gunwale of the boats and has not been threaded through the body of the craft.

There are also different opinions about the objects on the frame. Are they spikes to fix the boat to its target when ramming or are they some form of initiation system that sets off the explosive on contact with the target? Some of the objects appear to be hollow tubes so the frame could be a weapon of some kind.

A further indication that the boats were not originally designed for suicide missions is a shot of cut-away parts of one boat's cockpit that are seen lying on the jungle floor.

Could the Tamil Tigers have obtained the boats from the same source as they got their 107mm rockets? North Korea has certainly shown interest in designing fast, stealthy craft for infiltrating South Korea and two years ago was reportedly approached by the LTTE for a multi-million dollar arms deal.

Not shown on the video were any surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. However, reports have indicated that a Sri Lankan Air Force Mi-24 'Hind' helicopter was shot down during this attack. Another Mi-24 had been shot down with a SAM the previous week near Jaffna. Again there is no indication as to the origin of the missile but it is possible that it was North Korean.

Other weapons on view include a variety of AK-type assault rifles, an RPD light machine gun, a Heckler Koch HK69A1 40mm grenade launcher (identical to those in service with the Sri Lankan Army, so probably a captured weapon), and a Singaporean CIS 40GL 40mm grenade launcher.

Further, more comprehensive details of the Sea Tigers' organisation and tactics can be found in the March edition of Jane's Intelligence Review. For information about the video, contact jir@janes.co.uk
 
 

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