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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2707

SL Navy Turns 58: Strategic Disposition, Tactical Maneuvers and Novel Concepts Change Direction of Present SLN

By Ravin Edirisinghe

Everyone knows the formation by which you achieved victory, yet no one knows the formations by which you were able to create victory. Therefore, your strategy for victories in battle is not repetitious, and your formations in response to the enemy are endless. Sun Tzu

Sri Lanka Naval History in Brief

1. At a time where the whole country is rallying around the Security Forces of our motherland, Sri Lanka Navy celebrates its 58th anniversary on the 09th of December. A naval force in an Island nation have a significant value as its task and mission have a direct impact on the country’s long term strategical decisions, economical sustainability as well as protection of vital sea routes that run across this Island making it a nerve point.

2. Despite been the first line of defence in an Island nation SL navy’s role in protecting the motherland at a time of crucial importance have been discussed both at local and international level. Although the role played by the navy was not so significant during the inception of terrorism in the country, we have come to a stage where specific missions, tactical measures and employment of innovativeness to the naval warfare resulted in bringing decisive victories for the ongoing successful operations of the Security Forces.

3. Especially during the last three years the common public came to know the real capabilities of our tiny navy through its marked victories out in the deep seas. In year 1937 the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was established following WW II. The CNVF was later absorbed into the Royal Navy and was named as Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR). A total of one hundred Officers and men made preparations to form the regular naval force following the independence. The Navy Act came into force on 09th December 1950 along with the formation of the Royal Ceylon Navy and was later renamed as Sri Lanka Navy in 1972.

Naval Contribution in the Present Scenario

4. In my opinion enough have been talked and written about naval confrontations and various other incidents. But they all have been written or discussed in isolation. If we go back in time one would find various missions launched by the navy in making a decisive victory over the enemy. The main task of the navy in late 90s was to detect and destroy the LTTE supply vessels. In the past, navy was blamed for not making detections of such LTTE arms shipments as it was the life line of the LTTE in conducting offensives on land. There are many reasons for navy not detecting those shipments during the past which are out of the content of this article.

5. One would understand that it is not easy to detect a ship out at sea without proper intelligence. Even with sufficient intelligence, navies around the world will find it difficult to detect a LTTE ship carrying arms and ammunition due to the extensive tactics used by the LTTE in making their ships look legal in all aspects. Sri Lanka navy was entrusted with the main task of destroying LTTE’s international maritime network. Many defence analysts have talked about how the LTTE operate, what are the suspected harbours, characteristics about those ships etc. But none have been able to provide a single piece of valuable information so that the navy could use effectively.

6. When the present navy Commander took office three years ago, main mission running back of his mind was to find an effective way to put an end to the LTTE’s international maritime network along with the destruction of LTTE sea tiger wing. The concept of starving the enemy militarily is one of the important aspects which can be used quite effectively when fighting against a terrorist organization such as the LTTE. To starve the enemy, one should cut off the enemy supply lines. To cut off the enemy lines one should destroy the enemy assets which have been used quite effectively for the past many years with combination of many other tactics.

7. Naval hierarchy’s tactical decision that launched three years ago made remarkable successes out at sea in year 2007. The navy initially gathered intelligence from the most reliable sources. Destruction of small vessels that carried out the mid way transportation of arms and ammunition was carried out at the beginning while making progress for the major kill.

8. Following years of hard work of officers and men in the navy the naval force made history of Sri Lanka’s naval warfare by completely destroying the fleet of LTTE’s maritime assets along with huge consignments of arms and ammunition. These stocks of arms, ammunitions and other military consignments were desperately required by the LTTE leader to sustain his Eelam dream for another ten odd years. In simple terms LTTE’s hopes of achieving the dreamland Eelam came to and end with the destruction of these crucial military supplies.

9. Out of all the successes marked by the navy including the destruction of number of Trawlers carrying arms, LTTE attack craft and suicide craft, the destruction of ten floating warehouses by the navy can be termed as the most important mile stone in the present conflict. Let’s assume that LTTE had collected the military consignments of all these ten ships for a moment. The results will be unimaginable. The turning point of the undeclared Eelam war IV was established with the naval destruction of three LTTE ships during a short time span. This was the lethal blow that the LTTE received in terms of their military sustainability.

10. In my personnel opinion the efforts put by the brave Security Forces personnel in the country began to mark notable victories following the destruction of these fierce arms carrying ships. In no way does this mean that only navy played the major role. This simply means the coordination that three forces had in achieving a common objective i.e. termination of terrorism from the country. If navy did not achieve their main mission, the ground battle would have been more resistant from the LTTE. The hard earned objectives of the ground troops would have been delayed if not more difficult if LTTE had the ten shipments in their hands.

11. So the destruction of these ten ship can be termed as the most important and crucial contribution by the navy in the present scenario. One should also not forget the contribution extended by the fighting fleet units. During the past three years we see a remarkable reduction of number of confrontations out at sea. There were times where the naval units use to confront the sea tigers more than 30 odd times during a year. But today’s situation has changed drastically. I will be logical if I say the navy has also demolished 90% of LTTE fighting capabilities during the past three years. Once termed as the most destructive terror out fit both on land and sea are now known as a terrorist group that runs for mere survival in the face of the valiant Security Forces in the country.

Strategic Disposition and Tactical Maneuvers: The `Key to Success

12. The position where the navy standing today is due to the sheer dedication of the officers and men. But one would see a distinct difference the navy that was seen couple of years ago and today. Despite been a strong navy, SL navy has proved that they have accomplished a vital task that was pending for some years if terrorism is to be eradicated completely from the country. The last three years in particular made the navy make a 360 degree turn in all its aspects. Obviously the credit should go the present navy chief as well as to the officers and men who made their chief’s strategy come true by contributing with utmost dedication.

13. But the real reasons behind navy becoming so strong at present is mainly due to strategic disposition of its key components at the correct time along with the introduction of novel tactical maneuvers primarily in the maritime warfare field. If we take the navy’s successful missions which aimed at destroying the LTTE maritime network, one would see that the navy has never ever deployed its sea going units that far from the shores of Sri Lanka. The previous practice has been to wait for the enemy at distances of around 100Nm from the coast. These tactics have provided fewer results at a high expense of man power and resources.

14. So the decision to deploy deep sea going vessels at distances of 1500Nm with the out come of very positive results can be termed as one of the most crucial but a strategically proven tactic. For the lament, deployment of couple of vessels at that far will not make any sense. But the careful and extended planning that went to it along with continuous update of intelligence followed by one of the biggest ever naval sea logistic plan is the most extensive operation that navy undertook in its history of 58 years. Undoubtedly this strategic decision made the navy dominate not only the territorial waters around the country, but also made the so called tiny navy of this island nation the most discussed topic in recent international maritime discussion forums.

Tactical Outmaneuver of LTTE maritime Strategies

15. The strategic disposition of naval fleet units was not only limited to the deep sea going vessels. The reason why the LTTE sea tigers are no more present closer to the shore is also a result of both strategic disposition of naval assets combined with innovative tactical maneuvers that no navy in the world have ever seen. As most of the sea confrontations that broke out near the coast was handled by the Fast Attack Craft fleet of the navy, a timely and a tactical decision was taken by the naval high command after studying the LTTE attack patterns, maneuvers, attack formations and enemy platforms.

16. The decision to combine navy’s Special Boat Squadron (SBS) along with the newly formed Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS) on indigenously designed special fast attack boats known as “Arrow Boats” can be seen as the key point in turning the total advantage of close quarter sea battles in the favor of SL navy. Since the inception of SBS/RABS concept, navy have been able to take the enemy with total surprise along with tactical concealment which is considered to be a major principal in naval gun fire tactics in surface warfare.

17. The above discussed applications have proved results in order to assist the final battle which is now been fought in the ground by our valiant soldiers. The other two armed forces too have their own story which is leading the whole country to an imminent total victory over the terrorists. No matter how extraordinary the tactics are if they fail to serve the end objective. In this sense the navy has proved that what ever new tactics and strategic applications that navy has introduced was aimed purely at achieving the ultimate objective.

SL Navy’s Experience and the Future Trend of Global Maritime Warfare

18. It’s true to say that the world is moving ahead with the phenomenon of global terrorism. Though terrorism is global in striking, it is sad to say countries in the world have not up to date unified in countering global terrorism. There are enough examples to prove this fact. The terrorist attack can be on the sea, ground or air. But the fundamental fact of all such attacks is the effective employment of loop holes in a defence system of a state to its own advantage. When the state acquires a high tech defence strategy for much advanced threats, the tendency to neglect minor but important points have been quite common.

19. If we talk about modern maritime threat in the global arena it would be very much clear that most of the Sea Lines of Communication are not safe any more. This is not due to conflict between states or due to power projection of a powerful country. The major fact is maritime terrorism and maritime piracy which is making a rapid and a dangerous progress in its activities even the modern navies finding it difficult to counter. The Somali pirate situation can be taken as the best example.

20. While navies of major nations are busy preparing for future surface warfare with another modern navy, the reality seems to be a totally different one. Most of these navies have not even think about small boat threat from such terrorist groups which are capable of bringing devastation with in very short time duration. My personal opinion is that while the world is fast developing technologies to face a stronger enemy with equal attack capabilities and assets, they have forgotten an enemy that is low in profile, operate in high concealment equipped with modern weapons. Its true to say that none of these navies are ready to face a scenario where they are been suddenly surrounded by large number of small attack craft equipped with their own missile i.e. the suicide craft . At that time those missiles onboard Frigate or Destroyers will be of no use.

21. In this back drop the SL naval experience can be termed as one and only such experience available among the international navies. Navy in her 58 years of silence service to the motherland have brought many victories. Above all she has contributed heavily during the last three years under the present naval chief to mark an end to the LTTE maritime terrorism with the introduction of new tactics and strategically dispositioning of its assets in order to achieve national objectives. In the whole 58 years of history, the navy today stands strong despite her small fleet. The achievements SL navy achieved in the deep seas along with its role in countering maritime terrorism which is one of a kind in the world has made this tiny SL navy "The only Operational Navy in the World".

22. We Sri Lankan’s pay tribute to all those brave seafarers who made the supreme sacrifice in protecting mother Lanka. May the blessings of the Noble Tripple Gem be on our proud sons manning the First Line of Defence at a time where Sri Lanka is in the final steps of making history by totally eradicating a terrorist out fit that once thought unsinkable.

- Asian Tribune -

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