Bring Sri Lanka under India’s air-defence umbrella

And beware of flying tigers

Since 1958, the North American airspace has been defended by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a partnership between the United States and Canada. Since its formation, NORAD played an important role in defending the two countries against an airborne attack by external aggressors, notably the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Since 9/11, its scope has increased to cover domestic threats as well.

Between 2003 and 2004 when LTTE was engaged in the Norwegian-brokered peace negotiations with the Sri Lankan government, it was also busy developing its air capability. Currently that includes a 1250m airstrip at Iranamadu in the Wanni area, a helicopter and a couple of light aircraft, possibly Czech-made Zlin Z-143s. These aircraft can fly up to 1000km and can carry four persons. Not quite the traditional air force, but in the hands of an uncoventional military force such as the Tigers, this can be put to some very deadly use. Another advantage of flying small aircraft is that they are less visible on radar and air-defence systems that are designed to spot bigger, conventional aircraft.

Apart from what it implies for the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE’s newly acquired aerial capabilities adds on to the threat the Tigers pose to India’s own national security. For that reason, India has offered to assist Sri Lanka in redesigning its air-defence systems. While this is a step in the right direction, it is also an opportunity for India and Sri Lanka to explore a wider air-defence partnership. This is a good time to consider a NORAD-like joint air-defence command that can secure the airspace over peninsular India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

6 thoughts on “Bring Sri Lanka under India’s air-defence umbrella”

  1. im not sure where i read this, but turns out that with soo much attention given to our pak and china borders, our radar warning and airspace control nets in central and southern india are rather weak (relatively speaking). maybe we should start getting our own house in order?

    i will try and find the link

  2. teaming up with the Sri Lankans is not a bad idea but a NORAD like effort may not be necessary or workable. Firslty, the ZLIN is basically little more than a souped up trainer with little if any offensive capability. To get to a meaningful air force from there is not easily done. Also NORAD failed on 9/11 (the only time it was tested) as the large airliners were able to penetrate (the transponders being off was not an excuse as the planes were large). India should do something but the threat if any from teh Zlin is to the Sri Lankans and not to India.

  3. Vijay,

    NORAD did fail to prevent the 9/11 attacks; but that is just one more manifestation of the United States’ cold-war based defence mindset. The treat from the unconventional was not ‘on the radar screens’ (pun unintended)

    A NORAD-like partnership between India and Sri Lanka is workable; and to tackle the LTTE threat, it has to be designed to tackle both airborne unconventional threats, as well as the ‘conventional’.

    Given the flying range, the Zlin is capable of flying across the Palk Straits and reaching India’s southernmost tip. Even more than al-Qaeda, the LTTE is a master of improvisation and terrorist innovation. Underestimating the threat from the Tamil Tigers is dangerous. Yes, they are more a threat to the Sri Lankan government; but they potential (and actual) threat they pose to India cannot be ignored.

  4. Good move(by India) and a good suggestion (by Nitin!). On a slightly unrelated note, a common currency is also being mooted. Both are measures that require relations between the two countries to ascend to levels that exist between very few countries, outside of the developed world. We are living in interesting times.

  5. We seem to forget that there is currently a civil war in Sri lanka, I cannot see the Sinhalese majority accepting this. although the idea in theory may be good, in practice it may be too difficult to achieve due to current political situation.

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