The Situation Report
3rd January 1999
Anew chapter in the ongoing Eelam War III dawns this New Year when the Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) takes over the planning and co-ordination of counter terrorist operations.
Though officially called upon to start functioning from Monday, January 4 -the first working day in 1999 - it has been delayed for auspicious reasons. It will now commence work from Wednesday (January 6).
As reported in these columns last week, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, took the decision to set up the Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and the Special Task Force.
Contrary to my earlier reports, the person heading the JOB has been designated Chairman and not General Officer Commanding (GOC). This is said to be the reason why a proposed Joint Operations Command (JOC) had to be named Joint Operations Bureau (JOB), a subtle difference that reflected the character of the new body sans a command and control responsibility.
Highly placed Government sources said yesterday President Kumaratunga, will in the coming weeks set out the broader parameters within which the JOB is expected to function. Though a letter from Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, appointing former Army Commander, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, as Chairman of the JOB, set out the broader terms for the new body, these sources said, there were areas where clearer definitions were necessary.
Main among them was the all important question of whether the JOB will be 'civilian' or 'military' in character and whether it will be a 'legally constituted' or 'advisory body.'
The lack of clarity of the new JOB, as far as the Sri Lanka Army is concerned, is best expressed by Director, Military Intelligence and Miliatary Spokesman, Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon. He was quoted by Friday's Island newspaper as saying he was not aware of the JOB's mandate.
Senior officials in the defence establishment are in favour of a strong military apparatus, with effective legal powers, to plan, co-ordinate and execute counter terrorist operations. They say this is the only way a militarily efficient campaign against the LTTE could be carried out and those responsible for lapses held accountable.
The creation of a JOB with a Chairman, and the operational directives given to it, the same sources say, had left some grey areas for clarification.
The most important, they say, is the doubt whether the Chairman, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, a four star General, (now retired) would wear uniform and what form of administrative control would exist between the JOB and the security arms of the State.
On the other hand, if he is to play a 'civilian role' and the JOB functions as an 'advisory body' with no legal powers, questions are being raised on the effectiveness and efficacy of such a mechanism. More so since the primary objective of the JOB is to improve the logistical and operational capabilities of the security forces and the Police. These doubts, however, will be laid to rest when President Kumaratunga gives a ruling on the issues raised. This is expected in the coming week.
Whatever character the JOB may assume, the very fact that such a mechanism has been established, almost four years after the PA Government came into office, is of great significance. Until now, the responsibility has revolved largely around one person, Deputy Defence Minister, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte.
That tenure has seen the worst debacles in Sri Lanka's military history. That is not all. It has taken the highest number of casualties in terms of human losses, injuries and material losses. So much so, the latest debacle at Paranthan and Kilinochchi, not only saw President Kumaratunga take over the reins of the military machine but also assuring the security forces high command they would not be rushed into executing military tasks.
The fact that deadline after deadline was imposed on them by Gen. Ratwatte led to staggering casualty counts caused serious concern and anxiety at the highest levels of the security forces, is not a secret any more. They raised serious questions about forging ahead with the 17 month long 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' (or Victory Assured) with the colossal loss of men and material. President Kumaratunga acknowledged their apprehensions when she agreed to end 'Operation Jaya Sikrui' from early December, last year.
In this backdrop, one of the key guidelines on which the JOB has been required to operate becomes very significant. The Chairman of the JOB has been made answerable directly to the President and the National Security Council.
The move, high ranking government sources say, will ensure that the JOB with senior officers of the armed forces and the Police will collectively plan operations against Tiger guerrillas and co-ordinate their execution after approval by the President and/or the National Security Council. The NSC itself is chaired by the President.
The establishment of the JOB does not appear to solve the hiatus of the command and control structure of the defence establishment. This is as far as the conduct of the war is concerned.
If the intention of establishing the JOB was to vest in this institution power and authority to command the three forces and the Police, then as it seems to be now, appears to lack command authority.
There seems to be confusion at least at the moment on accountability and answerability. Whereas the JOB is said to be answerable to the President, (who is the Commander-in-Chief) and the National Security Council, the question is whether this answerability includes accountability, for without total command responsibility, accountability falls short. In this regard, perhaps, once the JOB gets operational, then the wrinkles of the command and control hiatus that now prevails may be ironed out.
This is a matter that the defence establishment should address itself to. Unless they do so, the same confusion of command and control that prevailed in the previous year and the duality of command responsibility that existed between the political and military channels will continue. That is not going to be to the benefit of defence effectiveness.
The JOB is to be located within the precincts of Army Headquarters. Senior officials from the respective security forces and the Police are to be assigned to it. It is not immediately clear whether this will incorporate officers directly involved with the conduct of operations in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and the STF.
The JOB will not be given the task of monitoring military procurements. The Government has decided that this responsibility should remain with the Ministry of Defence. Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, has already spelt out guidelines on procurements to service commanders and the IGP following a directive from President Kumaratunga. In addition, instructions have also gone out to them to minimise expenditure, cut down on waste and other abuses.
The message was reflected early this week both in the Jaffna peninsula and Wanni by the new Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, when he made his first official visit. "Nothing is wrong with the Sri Lanka Army," he declared. What was required was the improvement of standards and discipline. He made it clear that he was opposed to canvassing in any form, be it for promotions or transfers.
He emphasised the need to keep expenditure low and maintain stricter controls on the use of vehicles and fuel. Senior officers concerned have been told to ensure procedures in respect of these matters are carefully followed.
Also taking the cue was Air Force Commander, Air Vice Marshal Jayalath Weerakkoddy. He and some of his senior officers were going through with a fine tooth comb the details of a move by the Government to acquire three C 130 Hercules transport planes for the SLAF. The deal was virtually complete when some issues relating to the life span of the aircraft and overhaul had arisen. AVM Weerakoddy, SLAF sources explained, wants to give the final post inspection go ahead only after ensuring the technical aspects are in order.
The three C 130 Hercules aircraft which the Ministry of Defence wants to acquire are said to be from a fleet of six tanking variants belonging to Britain's Royal Air Force, once employed for operations in the South Atlantic.
The RAF is scheduled to take delivery of the state of the art Hercules C 130 J models this year. When the new J-models are delivered, the RAF had agreed for the older K-Models to be released to Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of Hercules.
Heavy Lift International, USA, an associate company of Gateway International Airlines has already entered into a memorandum of understanding to acquire the released RAF K-models from Lockheed. However, the tanking variants are not covered by this MOU.
The Government is learnt to have remitted by telegraphic transfer a fifty per cent down payment for the three C 130s in a transaction which is described as Government-to- Government sans any middleman. The balance payment is to be made after delivery.
Another MOD deal for the Sri Lanka Air Force-the procurement of two Mi 35 (the export version of the Mi 24 Hind helicopter gun-ship) has also become the focal point of attention in defence circles.
This is after reports of the involvement of a third party, contrary to claims that this is also a government to government deal. I reported last week efforts by some official quarters to prevent this column from raising queries that have arisen over this procurement.
A Sri Lankan third party involved in the deal is learnt to have been present in Russia. This is said to be during the same time a three member Sri Lanka Air Force team was in that country to inspect the Mi 35s, the export designation of Mi 24s which the SLAF is now in possession of a fleet. One Mi 24, however, was destroyed by an LTTE missile attack over the Kokilai Lagoon in Weli Oya on November 10, 1997.
The two re-conditioned versions of the Mi 35s are to be purchased from the manufacturers, Rostvertol. In a recent message to Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, M.V. Nagibin, the Rostertol President, has assured that his company will conduct free of charge the training of flight crew at their production plant. However, the MOD has been called upon to bear the cost of travel and food. Rostvertol has also offered a warranty of 300 hours or one year for the helicopters.
According to a recent issue of Air Power, a magazine of UK's Royal Air Force, 'reliable Russian sources have argued openly that almost 100 per cent of Army Aviation's combat helicopters were worn out at the time of the Chechen intervention. In particular, their weapons and on board systems were considered to be obsolete.'
Quoting Colonel-General V. Pavlov, Commander of Army Aviation, the magazine says he argues that, 'if our helicopters had modern radar and navigational systems they could do much more, particularly in bad weather. But unfortunately we do not have such equipment-at night time these aircraft cannot fight.
Problems with on-board navigation systems and radar hampered operations in adverse weather conditions with the result that, as in World War Two, air support was provided mostly in daytime and in good weather…'
"Most of the Mi 24s deployed to Chechniya had seen at least 15 years service-much of it in the harsh combat environment of Afghanistan-and, in addition to being worn-out, were not adequately protected against SAM (surface to air missile) threat.
"Moreover, Chechen air defence weapons were highly mobile presenting a serious threat to the helicopter force and crews soon adopted the policy of flying as low and fast as possible in order to survive. The commonality of equipment is an important issue because the SAM threat came not from weapons produced and supplied by western sources, but instead from inventories of the FSU (Former Soviet Union).
"This has been appreciated by the Russian military leadership to the extent that some have commented on the particular questions raised by having to fight against an enemy which has received the same training, uses the same equipment, and has detailed understanding of standard operating procedures."
Colonel General Pavlov's remarks only underscore the need to ensure the MI 35s to be acquired are not only re-conditioned properly for use but are also protected from missile threats. Some previous moves at re-conditioning helicopters have been found to be controversial transactions. This matter is now being gone into by an official Committee probing SLAF procurements. The fact that Mi 24s (and even Mi 35s) have not been adequately protected for missile attacks is demonstrated by the LTTE attack November 10, last year. It was the use of a Soviet made Surface to Air Missile that destroyed this helicopter gunship.
With a new JOB tasked to run the war machine and the highest levels of the PA leadership fighting a difficult elusive, battle to curb corruption in procurements, the year 1999 will undoubtedly be a crucial one. The beginning of the new millennium next year also marks the year of Parliamentary and Presidential elections.
A success in the war effort and also in curbing corruption will be a sine qua non for the People's Alliance. Continuing to retain a censorship on foreign and local media throughout this year is not the easy way to achieve this success. Even if the day to day developments of the ongoing separatist war do not appear in print, TV or heard over radio, the broader mass of the public are well aware that someone somewhere is trying to hide the truth.
That's the time bomb that ticks away and threatens to destroy the credibility of a Government that won public confidence at the polls with a promise of transparency and accountability.
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