Posted on May 8th, 2009

By Walter Jayawardhana

Writing an editorial comment to a full page interview by the London based Jane’s Defense Weekly with Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda , the editor said that Sri Lanka Navy has become the first naval force in the modern era to defeat a well armed insurgent group at sea.

“Led by Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda , the SLN developed a maritime strategy that starved the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of support from the ocean leading to their capitulation on land,” the editorial comment said.

Interviewed by Tim Fish Jane’s Naval reporter in the issue of April  29 2009 Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda said that the LTTE was kept alive for a long time by Warehouse ships which transported illegally acquired weapons constantly into the country.

The Vice admiral said , “They kept eight vessels on the high seas and used them as floating warehouses containing illegally acquired warlike materials such as artillery, mortar shells, artillery shells, torpedoes, aircraft, missiles, underwater vehicles, diving equipment, radar, electro-optical devices and night vision equipment.”

Karannagoda added , “The warehouse ships stayed about 1500-3500 km from Sri Lanka then would come in to about 300-400 km from the coast to transfer the equipment into smaller LTTE owned fishing trawlers , escorted by sea tiger units for transportation ashore to land they controlled. “

“The line of support kept them alive for a long time. In 2006,” the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy said, “we started destroying LTTE fishing trawlers and within six months we had destroyed 11 of them, but looking for trawlers was no help because locating them among hundreds of civilian fishing trawlers was a difficult task. Therefore we developed our intelligence network and we were able to get information about the locations of the floating warehouses. In 2006 and 2007 we destroyed all eight of them.”

The first warehouse ship was destroyed on 17 September 2006, about 120n miles east of Sri Lanka. Searching for these ships required an ocean going capability as the final set of four ships (destroyed in September and October2007) were located were located about 1700 n miles to the South East of Sri Lanka near Australia’s economic exclusion zone, Jane’s weekly said.

“We are not a big navy so we used lot of improvisation, innovation and ingenuity to get our job done. The Sri Lankan Navy does not have any frigates or destroyers so we used off-shore vessels- mainly OPV’s (off shore patrol vessels) and old tankers , merchant vessels and large fishing trawler as support vessels.

“As a result the LTTE totally lost their supplies and that turned the war. It was one of the major turning points in the last 30 years of the conflict. That was the main reasons why the LTTE are losing the battle, we did not allow a single supply of replenishment ship to come into (Sri Lankan) waters over the last two and a half years since 2006, “the Navy Commander said.

Karrannagoda praised the political leadership of the country by stating that they were “absolutely unwavering.  “President Mahinda Rajapaksa with Secretary of Defence  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have kept the armed forces together and galvanised the support of the people ; this was one of the most crucial factors,” he said.

Jane’s Defense Weekly said, “Gaining the control of the sea resulted in the capabilities of the Sea Tiger units declining dramatically. In 2006 the SLN had 21 encounters with the LTTE, but in 2007 the number of encounters was reduced to 11 – half the previous year- and in 2008 just four encounters were recorded. “

During the course of the interview Admiral Karannagoda said, since its inception in 1950 the SLN has changed from carrying out a ceremonial role into becoming an effective battle-hardened counter insurgency force. He said the SLN was first transformed to counter LTTE’s fast attacking craft and suicide units.

Karannagoda said the 2002 ceasefire had been taken into the advantage of the LTTE to improve the Sea Tiger capability.  He said, “Particularly their suicide boats” improved.

He said, “They became faster bigger and attacked in large numbers, so our DVORA fast attack craft were finding it very difficult in battles at sea when facing about 15 enemy craft and another eight to 10 suicide craft.”

“To counter this threat we developed the small boat concept where we too went in large numbers and outnumbered LTTE suicide boats and attack crafts in battle scenarios. We have indigenously built about 150 inshore patrol craft in three varieties, which can operate at different levels of rough sea ,” said Admiral Karannagoda.

Powered by up to four 250 hp engines and armed with 14.5 mm and 23 mm guns and an automatic grenade launcher the PC’s are designed for maximum speed and fire power. Built from glass fibre it just takes 45 days to build and equip a single IPC.

Divided into fighting units, the IPC’s are manned by highly trained sailors known as the Special Boat Squadron and Rapid Action Boat Squadron.

“We have located these squadrons in strategically important locations and at each location we have a mix of about 25-30 units in place. In a very short period of time we can shift one whole squadron to another place so at some locations we have combined this number up to 60 boats in some battle situations,” said Admiral Karannagoda.

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