Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gun down TAF with their "Low Flying Aircrafts"

SLAF - Mig29

SLAF - Mig27



Strong Sri Lankan Air Force

In early 80s an American war veteran wrote about how to protect American Sky from low flying Russian aircraft such MI-24 and Cruise Missiles. Today we are facing a similar threat from TAF.

Remember... realization that a problem exists is the only way we can ever reach a solution. Understanding the problem is the key to the formulation of a good solution. Our present air defense system lacks the ability to detect and engage extremely low- flying (I guess the actual segment of this air-space is between the ground and 100 feet above) attack planes that are currently in used by LTTE. The improvement of LTTE’s air wing has created a leak in our air defense umbrella. As per it stands today we have a threat that requires immediate attentions. We were attack in multiple occasions now. However it is unreasonable and also unrealistic to expect SLAF alone to prevent such future threats from TAF without assisting them by doing significant improvements to their current air defense setup.

We know that our radar coverage is insufficient to provide timely warning and also the existing air defense weapons (we have a range of weapons) are lacking the accuracy, depth and capabilities. As a result of this the ZLINs have evolved to be a serious threat to the ongoing war against terror, to our country, and in general to the whole region. According to the way I see it, this need a “quick fix” as well as a long term solution (with an array of progressive interim solutions).

In my field of expertise (I am not a defense expert) there's been debate about the impact of open source approaches on security. The open source exposes the source code of a software system to everyone, hence both the attackers and defenders get access to it, as per my view point the end result is better security than a close code system. If you apply the same concept to military defense, I thought it would be ideal to have the problem discussed in public to indentify the main defense framework against ZLIN (Zlin-143, which is the aircraft used by TAF). That I hope will produce a good start to a realistic end solution.

The ZLIN or TAF has open up a whole new context to this war. I can remember once Sri Lankan media (foolish, opportunist and greedy) were shouting saying that the final war will be fought on the sea with LTTE. The same was heard from LTTE spoke person too. But what has happened today, the LTTE naval wing has been almost neutralized by our SLN (Sri Lanka Navy). We worked toward what was shown but did not notice the hidden plan. I think sea-based-war was LTTE’s plan A. So then what is their plan B, which no one bothered to find? Even today, I am not sure how many of you have recognized that a war on air has already begun. In that context, LTTE is having the upper hand.

We all need to start analyzing this ponderous issue thoroughly. It has to be through a combined effects of technological and tactical knowhow (we need to combine all forces here), available weaponry (we need to combine all weaponries here), and the desire (which we all have), that we can find an acceptable solution under which we can operate (that mean, be cost effective).

As I have already mentioned, keep the picture in your mind that this flight starts at the ground and rises only enough to avoid impact with low obstacles. It also can use ground obstacles such as high rising buildings, land diversity (such as Mountains Rivers etc) to its own advantage too. Now visualize all these happening in a dark night. Having these in your mind, think that you are deployed on the ground with an anti-aircraft gun to shoot down this aircraft. So how feasible would that be, with a one-shot opportunity to gun this target down. It is not that easy right? Having that in mind let’s now try to find some solutions to this problem more closely.

According to my understanding the first and most important is to accurately identify, where the TAF platforms (airport) poised. As per the media, I am utterly confused, and sometimes it is even said that last attack was carried out by a plane airborne from South of India. In this regards, I heavily favor Long Rangers (LRRP units) to trace down the location of these ZLIN. We need to form a new special unit for this task. We need to train them with the help of our ally countries such as Russia. Today the LTTE activities are limited to killinochchi, which is about 625 square kilometers area. It is just 25 Km wide land area. That is where TAF keep their planes, and that is where we need our LRRP units to focus.

Long Rangers - SLA LRRP Units

Given the money we spent over this tiny aircraft, if we are willing to spend few more dollars to bribe couple of Tamil civilians, who would dare to risk their life for money. We may start receiving some accurate information about the ground location of these planes as well.

Above two, along with increasing the aggressiveness of ground operations (if possible) are the cheapest and also the quickest solutions that we have right now. I know ground operations have its own goals but as the low flying zlin become the primary threat, they all need to be re-adjusted to support the mission against zlin. No matter what other solution we find, above three have to be the mandatory.

The next step of our analysis will be to look at present air defense systems and the problems created by the existence of the evolving low-altitude threat. Let's get started with a discussion of the capabilities of zlin-143 (TAF). The Z-143 is a light aircraft, famous for pilot training. It is easy to manure and can fly at night or (in) low visibility conditions. However the most important but ignored factor here is that it can take a pay load of 1000kg (2200lbs). But have we seen them carrying 1000 KG of explosive in any of the recent attacks? What we have seen is, it only carrying four bombs. So it seems to have a fair bit of unused space to carry more weapons. Now the million dollars question is, was it just the tip of the iceberg? Think about couple of modified zlin-143s storming to Colombo with 12.7mm four-barrel, chin-mounted, rotary gun; four 32-round packs of 57mm or four 20-round packs of 8Omm unguided rockets; and four AT-2 Swatter antitank, guided missiles, four bombs together with decoy flares (or radar jammers) for self-protection (it is like a Mi-24, yes I know it is bit of a work to get a zlin-143 modified like this). What do you think the outcome of it would be? If we have not accurately read the strength of our enemy yet, we must improve our military intelligent wing and find answers to these sprawling questions before it is too late.

If we opted to attack this plane on the air, then we at least need to satisfy the first principle of air defense, early warnings. But the existing infrastructure that we have is incapable of giving it. That is with the obvious fact that LTTE always manure their plane just 100 feet above the ground level.

So then the common problem that we have to deal with is the detection. Today, we simply can't see low-altitude targets with our current equipments. In order to employ our weapons against this enemy, we must first be able to detect their presence. A realistic detection range of an air target at 100 feet below (which is what zlin-143 is flying) is very short and that again depending on the amount of ground clutter present around the radar base. However, let’s assume that we deployed/ configured radar systems to detect air born sources at 100 feet. That will require a set of strategically positioned radar units to track the position of the plane continuously. All these need to happen in a timely manner so that a fast moving attacker like F-7G (with Max Speed ~ 2,175 km/h) can chase down the ZLIN before it reaches its goal. If we are able to detect early and continuously trace its route then we can also deploy a Mi-24 too. In order make this a real we indeed need certain upgrades to the Mig21/ F-7g radar system to effectively detect low flying aircraft while avoiding ground clutters (radar system with Low Altitude Navigation Targeting Infrared for Night). However there is a big cost associate with that.

Again, if we employ our fighter jets for an on-air-attack, that will effectively have us shut down the anti air craft defense system to avoid "confusion" and minimize friendly firing in the overhead airspace at night. In addition to this given the current condition of F-7, it may require continuous assistance from the ground radar units to guide its way to find this low flying aircraft, which mean we may have to deploy many ground radar units to increase our detect-ability. On the other hand when flying low, an F-7 can suck dust, birds and even dead trees damaging its engine. That solution will be costlier and may incur long term additional cost to secure assets.

So there has to have a solution to improve our ability to detect these airborne targets. In this regards we may have to consider a option of some kind of a Lightweight Early Warning Radar Web (let’s called it “Security-Web” hereafter) which can effectively cover the whole island. This newly proposed Security-Web has to be a man-portable, and will have that human touch to make it more accurate. It will be highly mobile, but positioned to effectively cover the whole Island. As per my view point a solution of this nature may answer to some of the needs in our quest of finding a solution to this problem. Think about a cheap GPS panic device that most soldiers can carry. The device is configured to send two signals. One is to a centralized monitoring center to mark its position, and the other signal is to trigger all other devices to an alert mode. In the recent incident the ground soldiers of the FDL noticed these planes well over before it reaches Colombo. If we have enough units deployed to effectively cover the Island. Then the ones with this device can trigger signals immediately after they detect the airplane. As the signals reached the main control center, it will reveal its original position of which the plane last detected (via Global Positioning) on the map of Sri Lanka. As the Security-Web (let’s assume that each device is deployed at 1 km apart) is activated, the soldiers (or whoever the barer will be) will have their eyes on the sky looking for the plane and to effectively track it down. These signals will draw the moving path of this air craft. As this is having that human touch which most systems do not have, the accuracy will be higher. A simple mathematical formula can process the input data and adjust them to get pin point accuracy at the end. This will give accurate location coordinate/ moving path for an F-7 (radar range 30km) or a MI 24(radar rage 10 km), to gun down this enemy in timely manner. However in such an encounter the slower speed and low altitude of the zlin-143 is an advantage to TAF as it forces the fixed-wing (F-7) to constantly concentrate on ground avoidance. So as I said before I iterate and reiterate that my best choice against fixed-wing ZLIN is a Mi-24 helicopters (once we tracked the route we can deploy about 10 helicopters). In addition to this, we can improve our ground attack capabilities too, that is by mean of giving more training to the soldiers. In the end, if we go for a solution like this, the money we spend over a framework (infrastructure) like this will very well be paid back later as there will be many other businesses (related to GPS) that we can run on top of a framework like this in future.

However, it is equally import to realize that new ideas won't become reality until for quite a sometime, so till that we need more and more quick fixes.

In addition to the ones noted above a less expensive alternative include tethered balloons with good look-down radar and/or infra-red and electronic detection devices.

We need to take immediate decisions to determine the weaponries and detection equipments that are required to regain control of our low-altitude air space. I envision three major equipment requirements as necessary to defeat the threat. They are:

1. A high quality anti-aircraft gun
2. An "air-superiority" helicopter
3. A better performing low-altitude missile

Colombo Blackout - AA gun at work

Unfortunately the money we spent here will be an utter waist if LTTE is having a Plan C to back their currently active Plan B as well. In that sense our intelligent eye has more work left to do. Finally whatever systems or combinations of systems we choose, the most critical standards to be met should be the durability and cost.

Reference: Military Library


TropicalStorm said...


A ground to air system like the Russian SA6 would do this job quite easily. It only needs a quick radar lock and can take down a target from quite a distance. There may be more detailed info on these ground to air systems online if you want to research more.

Nirosh said...


I thought about that.. but knowing that ZLIN's engine is not a powerful one, they can easily modify it to virtually erase the heat path so a heat seeking missile is not a good option. Radar guided missile is also not a option (you can easily miss guide it)..

But if Rusia is willing to give one of their Cruise Missile.. :-) that will do the job quite easily..

Given the cost of a such expensive missile we will not have many of them. Therefore we need to position the missile correctly, which mean it is vital to track the plane route..

If I am still not seeing what you see.. please guide me with some links..

Thanks for commenting here ...

Defence Column said...

Hi Nirosh,

excellent write up! enjoyed reading it.

Posted a link to your article in my blog just now. Keep up the good work mate!

Nirosh said...

Defence Column,

Thanks mate..

N said...

Fantastic Nirosh, This is what our country needs, fresh input and innovative ideas. Keep it up!

nethdeco said...

I think the following article should add some information as well
its here

Ravana - The Noble Emperor of Lanka

He was the king for all human and divine races, and the one who can command the Sun.