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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Sri Lanka Navy Turns 57…Sailing Towards a Blue Water Navy

By Rohan Gajadeera

“So there are five ways of knowing who will win. Those who know when to fight and when not to fight are victorious. Those who discern when to use many or few troops are victorious. Those whose upper and lower ranks have the same desire are victorious.”

-Sun Tzu-

Brief History

The importance of having a full fledged Navy as the first line of defence in the present context has been discussed at various levels. The effectiveness of the naval role since the emergence of sea tigers have been improving and it is agreed that due to exceptional victories marked out at sea by the Navy, the tigers have find it extremely difficult to bring in their most wanted war material to this country. With the influence of the British Royal Navy, Sri Lanka Navy was born following all the rich traditions and customs that the navies all around famous for.

In 1937 the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was established and After World War II ,CNVF was absorbed into the Royal Navy as Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR). After independence from the British rule, a nucleus of 100 Officers and Men prepared to form the Regular Navy gradually. On 9th December 1950 the Navy Act was enacted and the Royal Ceylon Navy was formed. In 1972, with the introduction of new constitution, the Royal Ceylon Navy was renamed as the Sri Lanka Navy. The Sri Lanka Navy proudly celebrates her 57th anniversary on the 09th of this month.

Defenders of the Territorial Seas

Sri Lanka Navy is committed to guard a coast line of 603 Nautical miles and controls 21,700 sq km of Territorial Waters and another 465,800 sq km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is approximately seven times the size of land area. The 12 Nautical mile territorial sea stretch around the island (except in the North where it meets the border with India-International Maritime Boundary Line IMBL) is known as the Sri Lankan Territorial waters and the protection of these waters in terms of sovereignty and territorial integrity lies in the hands of the Navy.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has given three areas of the sea for the exclusive use of littoral states. They are the Territorial Seas, the Contiguous Zone and the EEZ. The continental boundary margin and the role that the Navy as well as the country can play will decide how best we are going to achieve the enormous resources that are waiting to be discovered. The claim for the Extended EEZ or the continental margins needs to be done before January 2009.

The Role and Task of the Navy

The primary task of the Navy is to defend the country, safeguard her national security and the integrity of territorial waters. Protecting mother Lanka from any internal or external enemy action is also a paramount part under the tasks of the Navy. The role of the navy expands to various areas as follows:

a. Surveillance in the territorial waters.

b. Avoid gun running, illicit immigration, emigration and smuggling.

c. Protection of harbours around the country including small fisheries harbours.

d. Protect ships from piracy.

e. Conducting Search And Rescue (SAR) operations in side the country as well as in deep seas.

f. Providing assistance and protection to fishermen.

g. Assist other military arms in their operations such as Amphibious Operations.

h. Conducting Diving and Salvage Operations within the Navy as well as for others when requested.

i. Maintaining the sea line of communication between the North and East in order to support the Security Forces personnel as well the civilians in the Jaffna peninsula.

Sea Tigers and the Naval Fleet

The emergence of sea tigers in the 80s, took a gradual turn of the operations of the Navy too. Sea tigers used Fiber Glass Dinghies at the early stages to smuggle both contra bands and war material across the Palk Strait. The naval fleets operating in the Northern seas apprehended many such boats during various operations. The naval Fast Attack Craft soon realized that the tigers are no more using the typical fishing boats, but are also developing various types of speed boats and armed craft to both transport heavy consignments and to confront the naval units. With the developments that were taking place both in India and in Sri Lanka, Tiger leader was impressed of the sea connection that he had. This led to the effective transportation of Tiger cadres, human smuggling, drug trafficking and gun running especially in the Palk Strait.

The naval patrols did intercept suspected boats ferrying in the Palk Strait many times and at that time they never thought these small Fiber Glass Dinghies are going to form-up into a challenging force out at sea. With the increase pressure mounted on the Tigers both from India as well as Sri Lanka, strict actions were taken to prevent all illegal acts of Tiger sea arm. Naval patrol craft were kept informed of the developing situation and a higher naval presence was placed in the Northern seas. In 1981, a suspicious craft was detected and followed by land and sea, till a lone figure was landed ashore. A naval patrol apprehended him as he tried to shoot himself, and handed him over to the Police, where he was identified as Kuttumani. Not long later another leader "Jegan" was also apprehended”. With these developments emerging on the sea front, the Tigers preferred not to confront the Navy especially out at sea. Tigers gained speed by using multiple engines on their craft. In some occasions the Tiger boats out maneuvered naval craft. Speed was a requirement for the Navy along with better platforms. The concept of Mother Ships came in to force along with sister craft to operate together out at sea. Fast Attack Craft(FACs) were introduced to the naval fleet and these craft delivered the lethal doze when ever a sea tiger fleet was detected out at sea.

They (FACs) were fitted with high caliber weapons and had better surveillance systems to detect deep sea Tiger movements. In fact they were fitted with the latest Radars, Guns and other fighting gears. Sea Tigers preferred to be away from the Fast Attack Craft. The men onboard these FACs are from the navy's 4th Fast Attack Craft Squadron. Together the officers and men of this squadron, they form the Navy's killer squadron.

The introduction of various classes of FACs to the naval fleet made it a lethal unit. Craft which were brought from Israel, USA and ones built in Sri Lanka joined the fleet by the late 80s. The sea tigers were defeated in all the encounters that they had with the Navy due to the superior fire power, professionalism and most importantly the dedication and the valor of these men.

Introduction of night fighting capabilities with stabilized gun systems took sea tigers with surprise. The tiger boats were fired by the Navy even before tiger cadres had time to fire their weapons. This was a major break through in the history of sea battles and tigers left out with nothing but to introduce suicide boats into sea battles. These FACs, the only naval units to be operated in suicidal environment took it as a challenge and overcame the suicide boat menace.

Tiger’s International Maritime Network

As per the available intelligence the sea tigers have had around 10-12 merchant vessels around the world in smuggling drugs and transporting arms and ammunitions. Before two years, when there was accurate intelligence, the Navy did intercept and destroyed some vessels of the tiger merchant fleet.

When ground battles were disadvantages to the military some argued it is because the Navy is not patrolling effectively in the seas. But the same people who uttered those words forgot that they are the people who advocate various governments to have a bigger Army instead of an expanded Navy. The important fact that one should understand about the real nature of the Tiger terrorism is that the LTTE cannot be fought and defeat in battles in this country along. The globalization effect has taken the Tigers into deep international networks in almost all the major areas that we find today to fight.

The Tiger international maritime network needs no special description of what they have done to keep the Tigers sustainable in the war field. The Navy’s role in deep sea monitoring and its successes took a drastic change especially during the last two years. In addition to keeping the Sea Line of Communication between the North and East, naval fleet units are dedicated to a much bigger and a vital task round the clock.

The success of recent deep sea operations is primarily due to the present Navy Commander's initiative in aspects of its operations and lifting the credibility of the naval intelligence.

Today, Sri Lanka Navy has hit the nerve centre of the tiger organization. The best way one can defeat a terrorist organization of this nature is only by military starvation by way of effective destruction of enemy Sea Line of Communication. Navy rightly understood that the tiger supplies do need to be stopped if one to mark victory on the ground.

Due to its extensive battle experiences, Sri Lanka Navy can be named as the one and only operational Navy in the world.
Tigers need to be defeated internationally as all of their major pillars where they are standing today have been projected and established internationally. The maritime assistance that Sri Lanka is expecting from the international community will be a key fact in defeating the Tigers. The role that the Navy have been playing in the past and present in challenging the Tiger sea arm has been quite impressive with the resources and the tasks that are been embedded on to her.

Naval Fleet Unit and Sea Tigers

During this year alone Navy's deep sea surveillance units have destroyed Seven (07) tiger merchant vessels or floating weapon ware houses. Tigers lost millions worth of arms and ammunition and many other important military vehicles onboard these vessels.

Today, the sea tigers are finding it extremely difficult to launch their small armed craft or even a ship to the sea. The Naval fleet has expanded considerably in many fronts such as its weapon out fit, sensors, endurance of ships and importantly the professionalism of the men who commands these craft and ships.

The failed Sea Tiger attack on the Pearl Cruise ii is an incident where the level of discipline and gallantry was shown by the naval men and officers out at sea. The vessel carrying 710 unarmed combatants were saved merely due to the bravery of the Officer In Command of the ill fated P 418 FAC, Lieutenant Commander ELP Edirisinghe a qualified diving officer from Pakistan and a product of the 12th intake of the Kotelawala Defence Academy and the Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee. He steered his craft towards enemy when one of his sister craft was in danger and more importantly to divert the attention of a heavily explosive laden suicide Tiger boat heading at the Pearl Cruise. He and his men lost their lives leaving way for 710 men to return home safe.

The dedication towards the task until it is accomplished has been a key character displayed by the Officers and men onboard all naval units. The place where the Navy stands today is merely due to the remarkable performances that were displayed by the men and Officers onboard the vessels and craft.

One reason for the effectiveness of recent ground battles has been due to the naval support. Starting from troop transportation, logistic supply, providing naval gun fire support when required, assisting ground troops to land at vital places and transportation of military hardware have been done effectively by the Navy.

It is said that naval offensives continues until the mission is accomplished and then continue to brave the waves as first line of defence protecting our island nation under all circumstances.

The Biggest Victory Ever

Sri Lanka Navy recorded its biggest ever victory on 10th and 11th September by destroying three (03) tiger arms carrying ships. Analysts indicate this event as the turning point of the undeclared Eelam war IV. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at Trincomalee to felicitate the naval war heroes of the six ships that took part in the deep sea operation. This operation is the most pain taking sea operation that the Navy under took in its 57 history. The arrangements were at the highest order while not leaving a single mishap to be happen by sending the Navy's precious vessels to a distance of that far.

Though our Navy is termed as a Brown Water Navy, this operation showed what the Navy could do by utilizing its available resources in order to gain Blue Water Naval capabilities when required. The destruction of three tiger vessels had ease the life of the infantryman and a possible northern move by the Security Forces into the tiger strong hold will have some comfort. The strategy of starving the LTTE militarily should be the aim of the Security Forces as in this backdrop, the Sri Lanka Navy has done its task.

The Future

It is true to say that more than 70% of the globe is covered with oceans and nearly 80% of the world trade, cargo and almost all the oil exports and imports use the maritime supply chain effectively to deliver goods from one end to the other. The global economy has been expanding at a tremendous pace and the world trade by sea too will increase in the same speed in the future. Economists believe the future intercontinental trade carried through the container carriers will reach 80% by the year 2020.

The term sea power `does not restricts only to exploiting oceans commercially but it includes the valuable aspect of protecting the above exploitation from interferences. The ability to of nation to influence other concerned in peace and impose its desired will in a war situation is also included in the definition of Sea Power.

The Sri Lanka Navy since its inception have maintained the above fact in a mode where it is most applicable to our country. It is because of the Navy’s role at sea that the Tigers have been struggling in achieving its objectives. To face the future, Navy is in the process of changing from a "Brown water Navy" to a "Blue water Navy". As at today she has functioned with the assets of a Brown water Navy but have delivered the tasks of a Blue water Navy.

Where the Navy stands today is mainly due to the leadership of the present Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda. If not for the accurate guidance and the continuous support he has given in doing the unthinkable, Sri Lanka Navy would have never achieved what she has acquired today. The Navy do expects a lot from him as the head of the organization and along with the qualified staff onboard he is very much capable of delivering effectively.

Strategical expansions in the right direction at the right time will broaden the Sri Lanka Navy’s capabilities and will be able to assist in making the Indian Ocean a safe place for all concerned. The expected expansion process of the Navy will undoubtedly add strength to the fleet and the role that the Navy have been playing for the last 57 years will continue for the many coming years. A three dimensional Navy (Surface, Air and Sub Surface) would be an ideal platform for the Sri Lanka Navy to go that extra mile in par with other Navies in the region. We salute all officers and sailors who made their supreme sacrifice in protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of mother Lanka.

- Asian Tribune -

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