The Little Air Force That Could, and Almost Did.

zlinAfter a terrible see-saw counter-insurgency, The Sri Lankhan Army finally found the will and leadership to end the war. Horrible suffering happened at the hands of both forces and perhaps now the bloodshed can end. However, inside this conflict is one of the strangest war stories ever told- an army with an airforce that consisted of only five aircraft. And a fairly good job it did of wreaking havoc before the inevitable end came. According to Wikipedia, AsiaNews and several war blogs, the LTTE, the former Tamil insurgency, had an Air Force. It’s amazing that this small insurgency had an air force at all. They otherwise had no formal runways, no indigenous aircrews, no search and track radars, and pilots had to navigate by GPS under the radar. All this was accomplished with two Czech Zlin 143s, two Cessna Skymasters and one Robinson R44.

In 2008, it looked like the Sri Lankan Army was not going to stop until the Tamils were cornered in the north end of the island. Half the Tamils who followed a rival to Velupillai decided the bloodshed wasn’t worth an independence movement. So the Tamils who were still fighting were getting rather desperate and were taking desperate measures, car bombs, assassination attempts, kidnapping and the last straw for most modern doomed insurgencies: fight from inside a civilian population to keep your casualties down.

None of these were working. So last year, the Tamil Air Tigers made a series of fairly ballsy bombing attacks on Sri Lankhan assets.

On March 26th 2007 Tamil Air Tigers dropped bombs on the Katunayake Air Base near Colombo, in an attempt to hit Sri Lankhan fighters on the tarmac.

In October of 2007, the twin Air Tiger Zlins managed to hit the Anuradhapura SLAF base. They damaged a K8 trainer, a couple of Mi 17 helicopters, a 206 Bell Jet Ranger, a Beechcraft Super King Air 200, a Mi-24 Helicopter Gunship and couple of Chinese built PT 8 Trainers.

On April 23rd 2007, The twin Zlins dropped bombs on a military bunker at Palali and killed six soldiers.

On April 29th 2008, Air Tigers bombed Sri Lankhan military fuel storage dumps. The ensuing chaos resulted in riots, and power outages. Worse, this one was timed to Interrupt the World Cricket Tournament. Time and again, the Sri Lankhans couldn’t scramble their F7s fast enough to target.

It was very embarrassing to the modern Sri Lankhan Army.

There were other bombing skirmishes, I’ll call them. The Air Tigers came in under the radar, quickly dropped their ordinance and then flew off before the SLAF could respond, even though the SLAF lacks significant search and track radar systems.

The Air Tiger’s most successful raid occurred Trincomalee Naval base on August 26, 2008, killing 4 and wounding 35. The hit caused significant damage to the base.

On September 9th 2008, they hit Security Forces Headquarters Wanni in Vavuniya. Eleven soldiers were killed and 15 injured.

Their piece de resistance was splitting the planes up and loading them with hundreds of kilos of C4 and planning an air raid on Chittampalam military, and the SLAF hangars at Katunayake Air Base on February 20th 2009. They turned off their operating lights and flew low, to their targets. One was tracked by an F7 (Chinese made MIG 21 ) before it made it to the target but for some reason the F7 could not get a lock. It was jit by ground fire and went cartwheeling down in falmes.  The other Zlin crashed into Inland Revenue Department while avoiding ground to air fire.

Not exactly the Israeli Air Force, and considering the size of the Tamil Tigers, it was mostly used to humiliate a larger army. Reports say neither of the pilots were Tamil, but both were mercenaries, one from the Ukraine and the other South African. Like all Kamikazes, it all ended in a couple of fiery crashes in what history will paint as the some of the strangest, if not smallest air operations ever conducted.

Sources and Citations

BBC News

The unfolding mystery of mercenary Ukrainian Pilot


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