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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Sri Lanka Navy; Only Navy to operate in a suicidal environment

By - Ravi De Seram

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable- Sun Tzu.


Sri Lanka Navy has stepped towards an era of a Blue Water Navy at time where they celebrated 57 years of duty to the mother land. Being the first line of defense of this Island nation, Sri Lanka Navy marked outstanding victories especially during past two years. Starting from combating the sea tiger small boat operations, it has gradually developed into a force which has even challenged the deadliest weapons of LTTE terrorism i.e. the suicide component.

Reading back the history of the present conflict, one would understand that tigers introduced the concept of suicide attacks when they were defeated at various battle fronts. The advantage that they (LTTE) acquired through this weapon is immense. The lethalness of the weapon rates high due to its stealth nature when operated on ground and the inability to detect suicide cadres, under water divers or craft filled with explosives even with the help of the latest technology.

History of Suicide Missions

Self-sacrifice concept has long been a part in conflicts and war situations. In the past these suicide missions primarily aimed at military targets, but in the present we clearly see even civilians being targeted. An early reference of a suicide mission outside that of a war scenario has been suggested to be in a story of "Samson" who died together with his victims as he intentionally collapsed a Philistine temple;

"Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' Down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more as he died than while he lived." (Judges 16:30).

The "Belgian Revolution" can be taken as an example of a modern day suicide bombing. A Dutch Lieutenant named Jan Van Speijk detonated his own ship in the harbor of Antwerp to avoid being captured.

A Persian soldier named Karl Klinke at the Battle of Dybbøl, blew a hole in a Danish fortification on 18 April 1864.

Another example can be traced from the time of the Crusades. The Knights Templar destroyed one of their own ships killing 140 Christians in order to kill ten times as many Muslims.

Suicide missions took a turn as a specific kind of an attack during the 1980s where such attacks involved explosives deliberately taken to the target either by a person or in a vehicle. The success of the 1983 truck bombing of two barrack buildings in Beirut that killed 300, rapidly spread among terrorist groups like the LTTE, Palestinian groups and the Al-Qaeda.

The Naval Environment

As mentioned earlier, naval battles took a sharp turn with the introduction of suicide boats. Even though these boats and their destructions took the naval fleet units by surprise, the Fast Attack Craft (FAC) which confronted sea tiger armed craft quite often came out with tactics to over come the suicidal threat during close quarter battles.

At the initial stages, sea tigers extensively used explosive laden suicide boats to target FACs. Sea tigers deployed two to three suicide boats with a considerable amount of explosives to destroy a FAC. During early battles, naval fleet units saw only a single cadre in the suicide boat, but later these boats had two or three black sea tigers. Suicide boats were fitted with a weapon and radar unlike the initial stages where they had only one cadre.

Naval units after facing this threat did some serious studies about the tactics of suicide boats and their maneuvers. Even though theses suicide boats were not directly involved in the battle, they were waiting in the rear of the tiger boat cluster to launch an attack. The important part of present day sea battles lies on the positive identification and classification of enemy sea units. The FACs of the Sri Lanka Navy have the advantage of early detection of these low profile boats and then the FACs formed in way so that they could remove the suicidal threat at the initial stages and then to concentrate on the other armed craft. This tactic proved quite effective followed by many other methods of evasive maneuvers, superior fire power, technology etc.

With the use of above tactics and modern technology, the Navy was able to defeat the suicidal threat during sea battles. Sea tigers have also used its suicide under water divers to target naval vessels at various occasions. Sea tiger attempts to develop an underwater vehicle in the past have been detected. One such attempt was successfully averted in Phuket, Thailand couple of years ago. Intelligence sources reveal that the sea tigers are still searching for better under water options to target both naval harbours and vessels.

Not stopping from there, tigers have targeted naval units on land too. The recent suicide mission on a naval bus at Digampathana is the best example.

Facing the Suicide threat at Sea

Sri Lankan naval fleet units through their past experiences and sheer bravery are in a superior position over the suicide boat threat. This fact makes Sri Lanka Navy the only navy in the world to operate their fleet units successfully against sea borne suicide missions.

To operate in an environment where one knows that suicide boats are available and that these boats will seek the slightest advantage of attacking your own boat do need to have loads of Adrenalin pumped. Beside chemistry, it is the naval training that makes these naval personnel strong and tactful in facing such threats.

Imagine a situation where a suicide cadre standing behind you and is about to trigger explosive jacket, belt etc. The first reaction will be to run to a safe location.

The situations for fleet units, especially for the FACs which operate closer to fishing clusters have become a tight one. We have seen number of occasions naval units been targeted when attempting to check fiber glass fishing boats and trawlers. A senior naval official expressing his views on this issue said "an Officer-In-Command of a FAC preparing to search such a huge fishing cluster where the availability of suicide unit cannot be ruled will have following three options to react;

i. Avoid the fishing cluster.

ii. Target all fishing vessels so that the suicide boat(s) will be destroyed along with the innocent fishing boats and lives.Take the risk and start searching all the vessels.

The first and second options do go against ones consciousness. If one engages in killing innocent civilians, he can be court-martialed and punished. Knowing the gravity of letting free a suicide craft, naval units do need to search and destroy such prior it makes a deadly move against ones own craft or against any other naval unit that conducts surveillance out at sea.

In short, naval units out at sea cannot let a suicide craft escape and they are there to detect and destroy such.

The naval experience; one of a kind in the world

The experiences that Sri Lanka Navy has acquired in terms of countering sea tiger surface and sub surface suicide missions can be termed as "the only such experiences" available around the world. Even the modern navies equipped with the latest technologies have proved that technology along cannot effectively tackle a suicide mission whether it is on ground, sea or air. Attack on USS Cole and 9/11 can be sighted as the best examples.

Human component plays the key role in delivering the lethal blow as well as countering such attacks. That's where the officers and men of the Sri Lanka Navy have excelled to the highest level of gallant in confrontations against suicide craft out at sea.

One who knows that he is going to face a suicide threat needs to be mentally much stronger than that of the suicide cadre.

The suicide cadre who comes out to sea to confront naval units knows that he cannot be returned without accomplishing his or her mission but those naval units that confront suicide boats have a bigger role to play. Destruction of such without inflicting damages to own units is the prime task.

To do that, those men onboard naval fleet units are professionally trained, well battle disciplined and above all have the highest courage and valor to confront "death". This suicidal environment and the experiences have undoubtedly made them the only Navy to operate in such conditions as well as to mark out standing victories over many suicide attempts out at sea.

These successes indicate that even though many tried to bring the world attention on Black Tigers in general and their activities, here in Sri Lanka the men in blues have proven that this menace can be defeated. Those who went to write deep analysis of Black Tiger days etc have failed to write a single sentence about the bravery that Sri Lankan Security Forces personnel have shown in fighting such menace with an uncommon valor.

- Asian Tribune -

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