The Sunday Times on the web

The Situation Report

3rd October 1999

Anti tank missile remnants flown to Europe for scrutiny

By Iqbal Athas

Front Page |
News/Comment |
Business | Plus | Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Inside the eastern sector of Paranthan defences, troops were on intense training manouvres. There were simulated attacks on Tiger guerrilla positions and a host of other drills. It was around 10.30 a.m., Friday, September 24.

Two Chinese built model 63-2 tracked Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), with their guns loaded and additional ammunition stacked inside, were parked nearby. The APC drivers were near a briefing area where the troops were to gather.

Two rounds of 120 mm mortars landed in the vicinity. Troops ran for cover in the nearby bunkers. No one was hurt. By then, they heard the volley of a loud fire. They saw one of the parked APCs partly damaged. There was another explosion and the tank was destroyed, as exclusively revealed in these columns last week.

Troops found pieces of coil wire affixed to a copper plate and suspected it could be part of the munition, or explosive device, that destroyed the tank. This column last week added "Was it the handiwork of an LTTE infiltrator who succeeded in fixing an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) to the tank a difficult task since security measures to guard the tanks are strict. Or was it an anti-tank missile with a guidance system, which was one of LTTE's latest acquisitions."

As I reported last week, the copper plate, wires and remnants of the device that destroyed the APC were flown to Colombo. It is now confirmed the weapon that destroyed the Armoured Troop Carrier was a man portable ANTI TANK GUIDED MISSILE (ATGM). What remains of the ATGM were flown on Friday night to an European capital for identification. That is to establish its origin, type and year of manufacture.

The Anti Tank Guided Missile penetrated from one side of the APC to the other. A secondary explosion after the ATGM fire had caused the ammunition, on the guns of the APC as well as those stored inside, to explode. Here again, no one was hurt. The exploding 120 mm mortars earlier had forced the troops to take cover. The high degree of heat generated by the ATGM caused the tank to smoulder even on the following day, Saturday.

In the open terrain outside the Paranthan defences facing the village of Murasumodai, sparsely dotted bushy growth allow Tiger cadres to observe troop and vehicle movements through binoculars. This is how they had succeeded in firing the Anti Tank Guided Missile.

Whilst the exact identity of the ATGM will be conclusively established once the tests abroad are completed, experts at Army Headquarters believe the missile to be a first generation one. This is on the basis that a Wire Guided System was used to fire it. Subsequent generations of ATGMs, they point out, are known to use advanced automatic self-guiding systems. One such case is the JAVELIN advanced Anti-tank Weapon System, where the missile locks on to the target before launch. On this basis, they say, it could be any one of the following makes:

Malyutka (9 K11) anti-tank guided missile system: Its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) code name is "SAGGER." First seen in 1963, the Malyukta was extensively deployed in Europe and elsewhere as man-portable missiles and mounted on vehicles. These missiles have been produced in Bulgaria, Iran, Rumania and Yugoslavia. They are used in Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union), former Warsaw Pact armies, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Syria and former Yugoslavia. One of the countries known to have sold them to various groups is said to be cash starved Ukraine.

This ATGM is carried in a waterproof glassfibre case. The lid of the case forms the base for launching the missile. If the target is less than 1,000 metres, it is guided by eye. Guidance is through a line of sight command and corrections are transmitted through a multi-core cable fed out from the missile.

Fagot (9k111) anti-tank guided missile system: Fagot (Bassoon) anti-tank guided missile system has the NATO code name Spigot. Produced in Russia and Bulgaria, the ATGM is used in Russia, Croatia and former Warsaw Pact armies. They are known to have been sold by corrupt Croatian officials to various groups.

Konkurs (9K113) anti tank guided missile: Developed by Russia's Instrument Design Bureau at Tula, this system entered service in 1974 and was given the NATO code name "Spandrel." The launcher and missiles are produced in Russia and Bulgaria. They are in use in CIS armies, India, Czech Republic, Slovakia and former Warsaw Pact armies. The launcher used for Fagot could also be used for launching Konkurs missiles. The operational range of the missile is from 75 to 4,000 metres using a wire guidance system.

Also reported in these columns last week was another incident, in the forward bunker area, where troops heard three rounds of heavy gun fire, similar to bursts from a Recoiless Gun. The fire had injured soldiers who encountered difficulty and had to be evacuated to Palaly Military Hospital. There, two men were reported to have remained unconscious for nearly two hours. Small aluminium casings suspected to be from the three rounds were found in the area.

It has now been confirmed that the three rounds were from PS 8 Cannisters an irritant similar to tear gas used for riot control and similar tasks. This is also available with the Police. Hence, any suspicions about LTTE having used either chemical or toxic substances on this occasion has been ruled out. However, this is said to be the first time LTTE had fired these cannisters inside the defence lines.

Military officials believe these cannisters containing irritants are being fired into bunkers to force the troops outside to face mortar barrages. But a senior official said "we have the answer to that." He, however, declined to elaborate.

Last week's incidents in Paranthan has laid bare the fact that the LTTE has been adding to its list of recently acquired stand off weapons. Early this year, they began using Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs). Reports thereafter spoke of them acquiring fresh stocks of Surface to Air Missiles. And now they have added ATGMs to their list though it seemed highly unlikely they would have large quantities. This is in view of the enormous costs involved.

One version of the ATGM is said to have been priced at around $ 115,000 for the launcher and $ 13,000 for a missile.

If acquisitions were bad enough, as repeatedly pointed out in these columns, the LTTE have had a virtually free run smuggling in military hardware through the north east coast without which they could not have sustained what has now become a high intensity war. Interestingly funding for such an effort was the main focus of a three day Interpol conference in Colombo on International Terrorism from September 28.

In his opening address, R.E. Kendall, Secretary General, made a revelation. He said a study completed last year at Interpol's General Secretariat revealed that most, if not all, major "terrorist organisations, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have internet sites, which they use not only for propaganda, communication and recruitment, but also for fund raising." He, however, did not elaborate.

Fund raising and procurement have gone on over the years. But the fact that the military hardware has continued to be smuggled into the country has been the cause for concern for the Ministry of Defence, which in the recent months has given priority consideration to the issue.

Even yesterday Sri Lanka Navy patrol craft fought an intense gun battle with an LTTE logistics convoy in the high seas off Mullaitivu. Details of the incident, which took place at 2 a.m, were still sketchy but reports reaching Colombo spoke of Naval craft destroying one logistics boat and an escorting attack craft.

Yesterday's confrontation in the high seas came five days after a similar encounter. On September 26, Sea Tigers attacked a Chinese cargo vessel "Yu Jia" heading with a load of fertilizer to Madras.

The vessel is now under repairs in Trincomalee. It has now become clear the attack was a case of mistaken identity. Sea Tigers had plans to attack "Silk Route," a vessel which regularly carried fuel supplies from Trincomalee to Jaffna. "Silk Route" which was due to leave Jaffna later that night had to be summoned to tow "Yu Jia" to Trincomalee harbour in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Another incident in the Trincomalee town area on Friday night left a policeman dead and another wounded. A group of Tiger guerrillas had fired at a Police checkpoint at Linganagar on the Anuradhapura Road junction. They are suspected to have come from the village of Thorankadu which lies on the Trincomalee-Anuradhapura Road.

The acquisition and use of high tech weapons, though of an early generation, comes in the backdrop of a fresh wave of attacks the LTTE has unleashed since July, this year. Whilst continuing such attacks in the Wanni, the LTTE has stepped up attacks in the country's east forcing the defence establishment to take a serious look. This is in all three districts in the east Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai.

Today, Ampara will be the venue of a high level security conference. PA leaders, military and police top brass will review the prevailing security situation and adopt measures necessary, particularly to protect villages that have become vulnerable to LTTE attacks. Since the Tiger guerrilla massacres at the 31st Colony in Amparai on September 18, there has been a spate of other attempts to break into villages in the district. A Police Special Task Force (STF) guard post was set up in one such area, the 16th Colony in the Amparai district.

With monsoon breaking out in the north, including the Wanni, will undoubtedly slow down any major military activity.

However, LTTE threats posed in the east, particularly to villages and recent incidents in the hill country will continue to pre occupy security authorities.

The use of ATGM by the LTTE is in keeping with their tactics of engaging the Army with stand off weapons to avoid attrition to LTTE manpower, which may result in close quarter battle.

The only defence the LTTE hither had against tanks were close quarter anti tank weapons, like the RPGs, which necessarily required these weapons to be fired from positions near to their targets. This risked detection and correspondingly reduced the percentage of success. Now, with long range ATGM which have a range of about 4000 metres not only have the disadvantages of short range weapons been overcome, but more importantly the LTTE have acquired a measure of tactical advantage in anti tank defence.

This is of significance considering that the jungle terrain in the LTTE controlled Wanni, as it favours the defender against tank warfare. The onset of the monsoon will further favour the LTTE, making any offensive by the security forces in the monsoon months a formidable task. In these circumstances, it is unlikely that there will be any major offensives in the Wanni till after the monsoons and that during this period both contestants are likely to consolidate the positions they now hold.

In this situation, the LTTE can be expected to deploy more effort to the eastern province where they have already intensified operations. These pose Catch 22 situations to the Government that cannot risk the reduction of troops in the Wanni. But, yet it would have to strengthen security in the Eastern Province.

The theat to the frontier villages poses a problem of a different dimension. In as much as the need to protect these frontier villages is a State responsibility, the political dimension of the problem must be of major concern to the incumbent Government who will have to face an election next year. Combined with that is the threat to the Tamil populated hill country belt of Passara-Bibile-Badulla. With all these problems, it would appear that the Government in the run up to months to a general election has more than electoral issues to worry about.

The Fifth Column

Editorial/Opinion Contents

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Hosted By LAcNet

Situation Report Archive

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.