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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

The Deepening Theatre of Operation - the Kilinochchi factor

8th February 1998

The government and the army high command, for reasons best known to them, are insisting that Kilinochchi is under their control.

The LTTE overran the defences and destroyed the camps and mini camps of the Kilinochchi military base complex, said the VOT in its night broadcast on Monday. The radio said that the LTTE’s attack began in the early hours of Sunday around 1.30 a.m. and that Tigers had broken through the army’s heavy defences into the base and overrun the large camps and mini camps in the Kilinochchi military complex. The Tigers took away a large quantity of military hardware and documents from the areas which they have captured in Kilinochchi thus far, said the radio. Some 150 Tigers were killed in the attack on the Kilinochchi base according to the VOT.

The Voice of Tigers said on Friday morning that they had resisted an attempt by the army to push down towards Kilinochchi town from Karadippokku junction. Yesterday also there had been heavy fighting when the army tried to thrust out.

The army flatly denied the LTTE’s claims and said Kilinochchi was under its full control, although contrary to normal practice the place was not shown on Rupavahini to underscore the point.

The Karadippokku junction is between Kilinochchi and Paranthan, situated two kilometres north of the former.

The Paranthan-Kilinochchi base complex was nine miles in length between Elephant Pass and the Bus Depot Junction immediately south of Kilinochchi. The base complex was three miles in breadth. The area is under the 54 division comprising three brigade groups - the 54-1, 54-2 and 54-3 and the tenth Brigade which was formerly at Pooneryn.

The tenth Brigade was in charge of Paranthan after it was withdrawn from Pooneryn in 1996.

An NGO worker who came back from the LTTE controlled parts of the Vanni last week said that civilians had been allowed into the town up to the Kamathenu restaurant which was run by the LTTE before the army captured the area in 1996.

It appears that the LTTE is planning to dig into Kilinochchi town for a while. It is clear that the attack on the Kilinochchi-Paranthan base complex is part of the LTTE’s overall strategy to further weaken Operation Jaya Sikurui and confound its objective.

Firstly, the strike on Kilinochchi, without doubt, was pre-emptive.

If the army had expanded its area of control further south east to dominate the network of channels of the Iranamadu tank, then pushing down on the old Kandy road east of the A9 to link up with the troops which can advance from their current positions east of Mankulam would have been almost a cake walk, assuming, of course, that the LTTE is weak, as many ‘well informed’ observers of the war are fond of asserting and arguing these days.

The terrain surrounding the Iranamadu tank, particularly to the east of A9 is hazardous for the army with its large infantry units which are dependent on the armour for forging ahead. It is the type of terrain which Jaya Sikurui has not encountered yet in its path. Armour, in particular, can be quite vulnerable here.

Tigers have hundreds of vantage points in the undulating terrain from where it is easy to pick out tanks and other heavy vehicles with which the army normally moves ahead.

So, to achieve its objective, Operation Jaya Sikurui has to currently accomplish six tasks - gain undisputed control of Puliyankulam junction, Kanakarayan Kulam and Mankulam junction, gain control of the old Kandy road which runs parallel to the A9 on the east side through thick jungle, dominate the A9 north of Mankulam and recapture Kilinochchi while preserving Paranthan. It is a tall order indeed for the army.

But the army has a singular reason to be confident that it can overcome the LTTE’s resistance soon.

The artillery and heavy mortars which the Tigers acquired from the army since 1996 have been main impediments in the way of Op. Jaya Sikurui’s progress. Hence, the army believes that if these are effectively neutralised then troops can move faster. The army has been unable to pick out and destroy any of the LTTE’s artillery guns and heavy mortars so far because it could not get precise intelligence about their location.

But now the US has stepped in for the first time to help the army fight the Tigers with greater efficiency. The US Bureau of Trade Controls granted a licence for the sale of the Hughes AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder radar recently. This is the first time that Washington has approved the direct sale of such combat- related equipment to Colombo. It is being bought by the Sri Lankan government at a cost of 11 million US Dollars (660 million rupees), according to Jane’s Defence weekly.

The information about the sale and specifications of the radar was out on the world wide Tamil cyberspace discussion circles in double quick time. This is a posting about the Firefinder which was posted in one of the group sites recently.

"AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder Radar

Primary function:	Mobile radar set. 
Manufacturer: Hughes Aircraft Company (USA)
Length: 106 inches (269 centimetres)
Antenna/transceiver: 181.1 inches (459 centimetres)
Width: 82.7 inches (210.06 centimetres)
Antenna/transceiver: 82.7 inches (210.06 centimetres)
Height: 70.9 inches (180.09 centimetres)
In operation: 145.7 inches (370 centimetres)
In transit: 82.7 inches (210 centimetres)
Weight: 2,400 pounds (1089.6 kilograms)
Antenna/transceiver: 3,200 pounds (1452.8 kilograms)
Power requirements: 115/200 VAC, three-phase, four-wire, 400 Hz, 10kw
Support equipment: two M923 five-ton trucks, two 10kw generators
Units: Headquarters batteries in artillery regiments, counter-battery radar platoons
Crew: 9 enlisted
Introduction date: January 1985
Unit Replacement Cost: $1,548,500
Mission: To locate with first-round accuracy, hostile artillery and mortar fire. Also used to register friendly fire.
Features: The AN/TPQ-36 Fire finder Radar is a lightweight, small, highly mobile radar set capable of detecting weapon projectiles launched at any angle within selected 90-degree azimuth sectors over 360 degrees of coverage. TheAN/TPQ-36 can locate simultaneous and volley-fire weapons. It can also be used to register and adjust friendly fire. Upon projectile detection, the weaponlocation is computed and is used to direct counter-battery fires.

The system consists of an operational control group, OK-398/TPQ-36, and an antenna transceiver group, OY-71/TPQ-36. It is used by the artillery battalions to provide an effective capability to locate hostile weapons, both mortars and short- to medium-range weapons.

A six-member team from the army has already been sent for training to the Hughes Corp manufacturing plant in Fullerton, California. These personnel will conduct further training courses in Sri Lanka on completion of their course."

Apparently the government is buying several units of the AN/TPQ-36 Fire finder Radar.

But can this ‘investment’ of 660 million rupees yield any significant dividends to the army in the Eelam war?

Any one who knows anything about the pill box would say no. Why?

Fire locating equipment like the AN/TPQ-36 are useful in a fluid battle front where both sides or either side has to keep moving its artillery in a constantly shifting rear. This is why the equipment is mobile. In such a situation, one cannot protect one’s artillery positions from enemy fire by concealing them in concrete and steel structures - the pill boxes. Mobile fire locating systems are quite useful in these circumstance.

But this is not the case in the Wanni. The LTTE can fire its heavy artillery from pill boxes which can take any amount of pummelling from the long range guns of the army. SLAF will have difficulties despite the accuracy of information because of the forest canopy. And also, the LTTE’s concrete and steel defences seem to withstand even the most intense bombardment by the Kfirs.

On the other hand the large number of 81 mm mortars which the LTTE uses extensively now are highly mobile because of their size. They would be out of the location pinpointed by the Firefinder before the army can direct counter fire towards them.

Hence, the LTTE might hold on to Kilinochchi, while continuing to deny the army full control of Puliyankulam, Kankarayan Kulam and Mankulam for some time. The army, therefore, is now faced with a dangerously deepening theatre of operations.

The Jaya Sikurui will be nine months old this week.

Four divisions -53, 54, 55 and 56 - are tied down to a terrain where the LTTE still retains the element of surprise and the advantage of choosing the time and place of attack which best suits its tactical or strategic needs.

But then, it might be more appropriate to leave alone the solemn convictions of those who bask in the anticipated glory of Jaya Sikurui’s victory.

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