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Midweek Review

IAF aerobatics display over Port City of Colombo



A grave being dug in Batticaloa for the burial of a Muslim Covid-19 victim


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two F 7 GS multi-role jet fighters brought the SLAF’s flypast at the Galle Face Green on Wednesday (3) to an end. The flypast conducted to mark the 70th anniversary of the SLAF was definitely the largest ever such show held either during the conflict or in the post-war period. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

The conclusion of the flypast, featuring Bell 212, Bell 412 helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters, Cessna 150 aircraft, B200 Beech King aircraft, MA-60 aircraft, followed by a pair of F 7 GS jets, paved the way for a superlative IAF aerobatics display

The Tejas (fighter aircraft), the Sarang (advanced light helicopter) and Surya Kiran (Hawks) teams displayed their flying prowess to a large gathering at the Galle Face, in spite of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Wednesday’s show was brought to an end with one F 7 fighter jet aircraft making a daring low pass. The Indian deployment included Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft of its Navy and totalled 23 aircraft of their Air Force and the Navy. All Indian aircraft operated from Katunayake.

The Indian High Commission stressed on the deployment of indigenously built aircraft for the Colombo ‘mission.’

Among the spectators were President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, first lady Ioma, and 18th Commander of the SLAF Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and he is the sixth Commander of the SLAF since the conclusion of the war. Since the end of the war in May 2009 others who commanded the SLAF have been H.D. Abeywickrama (Feb 27, 2011-Feb 27, 2014, K.A. Gunatilleke (Feb 27, 2014-June 15, 2015), Gagan Bulathsinghala (June 15, 2015-Sept 12, 2016), Kapila Jayampathy (Sept 13, 2016-May 29, 2019 and Sumangala Dias (May 30, 2019-Nov 2-2020). All of them received the rank of Air Chief Marshal following their retirement. The then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke (June 11, 2006-Feb 27, 2011) had been at the helm during the Eelam War IV and was present at the fly past and acrobatics display in his capacity as the Governor of the Western Province. Goonetileke holds the rank of Marshal of the Air Force.

The F7s on display were among the four Chinese jets acquired in the wake of the first LTTE attack on the SLAF base, Katunayake, in March 2007. The raid stunned the first Rajapaksa administration, at that time fighting the LTTE in the Eastern Province. The LTTE remained strong in both the northern and eastern theatres. The Army, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, remained trapped, unable to break through the Muhamalai frontline, extending from Kilali to Nargarkovil, in the Vadamarachchi east coast.

The SLAF badly felt the need for an aircraft with dedicated capabilities of a jet interceptor. The top SLAF leadership was in a quandary with the country being offered the opportunity to buy F7s or much more advanced MiG 29s from Ukraine. It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka grappled with the two offers and finally decided to go for the Chinese jets.

The three day-day fly past and acrobatic display came to an end on Friday (5) with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa awarding Presidential Colours to No 05 jet squadron and No 06 transport helicopter squadron. With this, altogether 13 SLAF units have received Presidential Colours. The ceremony was held at SLAF Katunayake. The March 5 visit to Katunayake was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first since the last presidential election. He previously visited Katunayake in his capacity as the Defence Secretary on June 11, 2009 to participate in an event to mark the conclusion of air operations against the LTTE. The writer had an opportunity to cover the Defence Secretary’s visit to Katunayake where he declared that it was the man at the controls of whatever the armaments at the SLAF’s disposal who made a difference in the battlefield. To mark the conclusion of air operations, nine aircraft from No 10, No 12 and No 05 flew in formation over the airbase (Gota: what matters is the man at the controls of armamentsThe Island, June 12, 2009)

Sri Lanka should be eternally grateful for the crucial support provided by Pakistan to bring the scourge of terrorism to an end. Pakistan provided crucial support, especially providing jet flying training to SLAF pilots at a time even China was somewhat reluctant to do so.

Acquisition of F7 GS

H.D. Abeywickrama told the writer how a three-member team selected the F 7 GS over MiG 29s. The then Group Captain Sudarshana Pathirana had been a member of that team and subsequently flew the freshly acquired Chinese jets. The SLAF deployed F 7 GS in January 2008. The three member expert team asserted that the SLAF should acquire Chinese jets immediately and explore the possibility of acquiring MiG 29s for a long term solution. The F 7 GS were the jets acquired by the SLAF last.

At the height of the war, the SLAF had three fighter squadrons, namely No 10 (Israeli Kfirs), No 12 (Ukrainian MiG 27s) and No 05 (Chinese F 7s). All squadrons were based at the SLAF base, Katunayake, adjoining the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) under constant LTTE threat. In July 2001, the LTTE infiltrated the BIA. The commando-style raid caused massive losses.

During Eelam War IV, the SLAF deployed nearly two dozen jets. Incumbent SLAF Chief had the rare opportunity to command No 12 and No 05 squadrons on an acting capacity while being Commanding Officer of the No 10 squadron. Pathirana flew both Kfirs and F 7s and was one of the most experienced pilots in jet operations.

Wouldn’t it have been better if Kfirs and MiG 27s, too, were in the fly past as the SLAF celebrated its 70th anniversary? Today both squadrons are not operational. The No 09 squadron comprising Mi 24s helicopter gunships now flies Mi-17s as Mi 24s are no longer operational. Sri Lanka acquired Mi 24 s in 1995, Kfirs in 1996, MiG 27s in 2000. The SLAF’s decision to acquire Mi 24s in the wake of the enemy employing shoulder-fired heat seeking missiles in late April 1995 was influenced by the IPKF having Mi 24s during its deployment here. It wouldn’t be economically viable to maintain peace-time three jet squadrons as well as an attack helicopter squadron. However, the SLAF should be also mindful of the danger in losing much valued experience acquired in jet and Mi 24 operations. Political leadership, too, should be attentive to the armed forces’ needs. Now that the MiG 27s have been retired, and Mi 24 unlikely to fly again, the SLAF is considering the feasibility of overhauling the Kfirs.

As the SLAF celebrated its 70th anniversary with the IAF’s participation being the highlight, the country should seriously examine post-war realities against the backdrop of the growing rivalry between China and the US. Last week’s fly past and aerobatics display took place over an area encompassing the flagship China-funded ‘Port City Colombo.’ Situated next to the Galle Face Green, the project, developed by CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd., with an initial investment of USD 1.4 bn, covers 269 ha of land reclaimed from the sea. The reclamation was completed in January 2019 before the second humiliating polls trouncing of the yahapalana government 10 months later.

The SLAF suffered in the wake of the January 2015 change of government. The UNP-SLFP government found fault with the acquisition of Ukrainian MiG 27 by the first Rajapaksa administration. The Yahapalana administration flayed the Rajapaksa administration over what it called a corrupt MiG deal. Retired SLAF Commander, the then Air Marshal Goonetilike, was among those summoned by the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) probing acquisition of MiGs.

SLAF re-acquires jet capability

In the immediate aftermath of the 1971 insurgency, the SLAF took delivery of MiG 15s and MiG 17s from the then Soviet Union. The Soviet aircraft were phased out in 1981. The SLAF felt the urgent need for jet capability in the wake of the LTTE resuming war in June 1990 following a 14-month long ‘honeymoon’ with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa. China was the only country willing to supply jets to the SLAF as India continued to oppose weapons sales to Colombo. By then, India had terminated its so called peace keeping mission (July 1987-March 1990) as a result of President Premadasa entering into direct negotiations with the LTTE. Chinese built F 7s were deployed in 1991 after acquiring FT 5 and FT 7 (twin-seater supersonic jet trainer) in the previous year. The Kfirs were added to the SLAF arsenal in 1996 and the MiGs in 2000.

Both Kfirs and MiG 27s were acquired during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumararatunga’s presidency. But, the SLAF gradually developed the jet capability that finally involved a range of other air assets, including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Beechcraft in mounting coordinated attacks. The targeted killing of Thamilselvam, the international face of the LTTE terrorism as its head of the political wing on Nov 2, 2007, just 12 days after the devastating LTTE raid on Anuradhapura airbase, is something the entire armed forces can be quite rightly proud of. The writer still remembers, Air Marshal Goonetileke sharing the successful attack carried out by a pair of aircraft, a Kfir and MiG 27 on Thamilselvam’s hideout south of Kilinochchi with this writer.

At the time the SLAF celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, the country boasted of 12 Kfirs – a formidable weapons platform. Altogether SLAF acquired as many as 15 Kfirs. But, the SLAF experienced delays in obtaining engine spares as each and every delivery required US State Department approval as the engine happened to be of US origin. It would be pertinent to mention the SLAF examined the possibility of acquiring MiG 29 or MiG 27 before deciding on the latter. The deployment of MiG 27s in 2000 gave the SLAF capability to carry a heavy payload in low flying attacks. The acquisition of Kfirs and MiG 27 should be examined against the backdrop of the LTTE securing shoulder fired missiles. F 7 BS found it difficult to cope up with the situation hence the decision to acquire Kfirs. Four years later, the SLAF added MiGs to its arsenal. The SLAF acquired seven MiG 27s in 2000. However, in spite of having immense airpower, it was never used as part of the overall military strategy meant to annihilate the LTTE. That situation changed in 2006.

By the time Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidency in Nov 2005, of the seven MiGs, four had been destroyed. One was caused by Ukrainian Captain L Valeric on August 18, 2001 when he flew a jet on the Ukrainian Aviation Day. The low flying aircraft hit a telephone wire and smashed into a house by the Negombo lagoon, situated about a km away from the writer’s home. The remaining three MiG 27s and the MiG trainer were grounded. Faced with an unprecedented LTTE threat, the SLAF pushed for immediate overhauling of the grounded aircraft, in addition to four extra aircraft. Initially an attempt was made to procure MiGs 27s from India as the IAF at that time was believed to have approximately 200 MiGs. India turned down the request. Sri Lanka sought Ukrainian help and was able to secure the required aircraft. The transaction was made on a government to government basis though the yahapalana administration found fault with the transaction. The whole thing was called a corrupt transaction. During Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009), No 12 squadron comprising MiG 27s, carried out hundreds of sorties /missions.

Those who furiously attacked the MiG 27 transaction during the Rajapaksa administration and the most obnoxious way they addressed the issue may have convinced the reader perhaps MiGs weren’t acquired after all in spite of payments made. For the disgraceful yahapalana strategists, the No 12 squadron didn’t exist.

Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force receiving a memento from Tejas fighter pilot Wing Commander Karthikeya Singh at the Galle Face Green. Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana looks on

‘Rolling Thunder’

Let me discuss the largest airstrike carried out by the SLAF during the entire conflict. The operation, code-named ‘Rolling Thunder’, carried out on June 10, 2008, involved 10 aircraft, four MiG 27 and F 7GS and a pair of Kfirs. There hadn’t been any other instance of the SLAF deploying almost half of all available jets for the assault on the Muhamalai frontline. The Army couldn’t breach the Muhamalai LTTE defence though many costly attempts were made over the years. In fact, the Jaffna-based Divisions couldn’t breach the Muhamalai line until the then Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s celebrated Task Force 1/58 Division moved against the LTTE from the direction of Paranthan in early January 2009.

Throughout the war, the Katunayake-based jet squadrons played a pivotal role in carrying out specific operations in support of the advancing Army and independent operations meant to dismantle the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability. The SLAF (fighter squadrons) developed the capacity to launch night time operations. The No 12 squadron engaged in low level bombing operations.

The SLAF experienced severe difficulties caused by no fault of theirs. The SLAF’s attempts to establish an anti-aircraft defence was delayed due to New Delhi’s strong objections to installation of Chinese 3D radar. India felt threatened by the installation of Chinese radar here whereas Sri Lanka remained exposed to the LTTE air threat. Finally, the SLAF acquired both Indian (2 D Indra MK ii) and Chinese radar (JY 11), the latter being 3 D, in the wake of the first LTTE air attack carried out on March 27, 2007. The LTTE used Zlin 143 light aircraft for night time attacks.

Big powers jostle for power

Today, India is a key member of the US-led Quad opposed to China rapidly expanding its influence globally. Its other members are Australia and Japan. Sri Lanka has been compelled to walk a diplomatic tightrope having handed over the strategic Hambantota port to China in 2017 on a 99-year-lease under controversial circumstances. Interestingly, the UNP-led yahapalana government, having come to power vowing to do away with China-funded projects, ended up handing over the Hambantota port to China much to the dismay of its overseas benefactors.

Sri Lanka’s decision to seek Indian and Japanese investment for the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) instead of going ahead with the the 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on the much sought after East Container Terminal (ECT) should be examined, taking into account both China and the US seeking to consolidate their position in Colombo. In addition to the Hambantota port, secured on a 99-year lease in 2017, China operates a terminal at the Colombo harbour. Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT) is a joint venture involving China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (85 per cent) and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA/15 per cent) under a 35 year Build Operate and Transfer deal. Many an eyebrow was raised when India set the record straight regarding Sri Lanka’s recent statement on the proposed agreement with India’s Adani Group on the ECT. India declared that Sri Lanka had sought consensus with Adani on the WCT instead of going through the Indian High Commission.

Recent US declaration that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be considered for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact shouldn’t be considered under any circumstances as a case of the US losing interest. The US, as well as its allies, India, Japan and Australia, as part of their individual/joint overall strategy meant to counter China, are engaged with Sri Lanka. At that time India threw its weight behind terrorism here, it had been firmly in the then Soviet Camp. India’s dependence on Soviet Union for its defence needs was so much, New Delhi had no option but to keep quiet when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. But today, the Indian foreign policy has turned a full circle. India is now firmly in the US camp with their relationship encompassing an entire gamut of factors, including nuclear cooperation. The US simply cannot do without India in Asia. That is the reality and the undeniable truth.

But India should keep in mind the Churchilian adage that there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies, but only permanent interests. I

The recent Indian High Commission response to Energy Minister and Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila’s declaration in respect of the Trincomalee oil tank farm underscored New Delhi’s determination to hold onto the foothold in the strategic Trincomalee region. One cannot find fault with the Indian High Commission for immediately setting the record straight. The Indian response to Minister Gammanpila can be compared with a furious Chinese Embassy reaction to the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake over the latter’s criticism of Chinese loans. A spate of Chinese Embassy statements issued here in response to US criticism of China at the time of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit last December emphasized the state of play. IAF’s dazzling performance over the Colombo skies is certainly a significant factor as important as New Delhi’s stand on the latest accountability resolution at the UNHRC on Sri Lanka.

Let me end this piece by recalling what retired Army Commander Gen. Gerry de Silva told the writer several years ago. Responding to a query, Silva said that for him the IAF violating Sri Lanka’s airspace in 1987 was the most humiliating moment. The IAF violation compelled Sri Lanka to call off Operation Liberation, the first ever Brigade-size ground operation to bring back the Jaffna peninsula under its control. Had Sri Lanka enjoyed the freedom to deal with terrorism, Operation Liberation probably would have changed the course of history.

The fly past and aerobatic display coincided with an air observer training exercise conducted by the Indian Navy. Sri Lanka Navy partnered with the Indian Navy and the SLAF took part in an air observer training exercise on a Dornier aircraft of the Indian Navy conducted in the southern coast from 02nd to 05th March 2021. Taking the wings from the Air Force base, Katunayake, a total of four training sorties were carried out covering the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the southern coast during the training deployment.

Finally, let me pay tribute to those who made SLAF overseas deployment along with six Mi 17s possible under UN command in the Central African Republic and South Sudan successful. Perhaps deployment under UN command is the pinnacle of the SLAF’s development over the past 70 years. The political and SLAF leaderships should keep in mind those seeking to humiliate Sri Lanka at the UNHRC want the UN to terminate overseas Sri Lankan military deployment.

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Midweek Review

Post-war military matters and concerns



Australian HC Paul Stephens with President Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on 12 May, 2023. The PMD released a pic of HC Stephens meeting President Wickremesinghe to inform him officially of the proposed handing over of the Beechcraft, previously used by the Royal Australian Air Force.

This year’s annual Indian Navy–Sri Lanka Navy bilateral maritime Exercise SLINEX was conducted amidst political turmoil here. The six-day SLINEX, the 10th edition of the series commenced three days after the launch of a public protest campaign near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana. The two-phased exercise involved several Indian vessels INS Kiltan (Advanced Anti-Submarine Warfare Corvette) and INS Savitri (Offshore Patrol Vessel), SLNS Gajabahu (Advance Offshore Patrol Vessel/The one in which President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took refuge on July 09) and SLNS Sagara (OPV). In addition, Indian Navy Chetak helicopter and Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft and SLAF Dornier and BELL 412 helicopters participated in the exercise. The Exercise featured the Special Forces of the two Navies. The previous edition of SLINEX was conducted in Visakhapatnam from 7-12 March 2022.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Indian Defence Research Wing (government website) recently declared that Australia would provide a former Royal Australian Air Force Beechcraft KA 350 King Air (registration A32-673) to Sri Lanka on a request made by India. The KA350 King Air is a modern twin-engine turboprop aircraft.

The story, posted on 16 May, four days after Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Paul Stephens, officially informed President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the move, was headlined ‘Australia to donate Beechcraft KA 350 to Sri Lanka upon India’s request.’

HC Stephens was accompanied by Deputy High Commissioner Ms. Lalita Kapur, First Secretary Brett Zehnder and Defence Advisor Captain Ian Cain. The meeting took place at the Presidential Secretariat, the scene of violent confrontation between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration and the protest movement, a year ago.

The Indian website asserted that the Australian move mirrored New Delhi’s bid to strengthen security ties with Sri Lanka as part of its Indian Ocean outreach. According to the website, the deployment is meant to boost Sri Lanka’s sovereign aerial maritime surveillance capability. In terms of the agreement between the two governments, the donor would support the operation of the aircraft for a period of 12 months.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) announced: “The gift of the aircraft is part of the Australian Government’s commitment to strengthening and enhancing the cooperation and collaboration that is the foundation of the strong bilateral relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka. A key focus of this relationship remains the continued cooperation on countering all forms of transnational crime, including drug smuggling, as well as strengthening border management through intelligence sharing and the deterrence, disruption, interception and return of maritime people smuggling ventures under the border security operation, known as Operation Sovereign Borders.”

Operation Sovereign Borders is a high profile military led mission, launched in 2013, to thwart illegal entry of would-be asylum seekers. The change of governments, over the past decade, hasn’t undermined the high profile operation as major political parties are committed to block illegal migration whatever the consequences.

The donation of the aircraft is in line with the understanding the two countries reached following a visit undertaken by Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, from June 19-21 last year, amidst deepening political turmoil here. She met the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, as well as Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris. A year later, Wickremesinghe is at the helm and Gotabaya Rajapaksa ousted by a US-backed protest campaign, as alleged by former Minister Wimal Weerawansa, a claim denied by the US mission here, but not denied by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, a key protagonist referred to by the accuser.

In April and June 2014, Sri Lanka took delivery of two 38.2 m long Australian patrol boats and they were commissioned as SLNS Mihikatha and SLNS Ratnadeepa. Both vessels are in service today. It would be pertinent to mention that the talks, on the transferring of vessels, were finalized in Colombo when the then Australian Premier Tony Abbott visited Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government of Meeting (CHOGM). The Australian move was made in the wake of the UK going all out against Sri Lanka over the accountability issues.

In the following year, the then Sri Lanka’s shameless government co-sponsored the US–led accountability resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) against one’s own country.

India, Australia strategy

In late August last year, Australia announced an unprecedented move to pay for a part of Sri Lankan military’s fuel requirement. Australian High Commissioner in Colombo Paul Stephens tweeted:

“Australia is pleased to be working with India to provide fuel to Sri Lanka’s Navy and Air Force. It will help our long-standing cooperation, against transnational crime, to continue. As Indian Ocean neighbours, all three countries share a commitment to preserving regional security.”

India and Australian joint approach here should be examined against the backdrop of ‘Quad’ strategy in relation to Sri Lanka. However, India pursues its own policy in terms of India’s policy of ‘Neighbourhood First’, ‘Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR),’ as well as ‘Priority One’ partner. ‘Quad’ security alliance meant to counter growing Chinese influence consists of the US, Japan, Australia and India. Sri Lanka has been caught up in the China vs ‘Quad’ battle and Sri Lanka’s dependence on Chinese investments made the situation worse.

The US has included Sri Lanka in its military exercises programme while the other ‘Quad’ member Japan entered into the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ Agreement in October 2015.

Sri Lanka took delivery of a Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft, from India, in mid-August last year. The SLAF declared that India made available the aircraft in response to a request made during the Yahapalana administration (2015-2019). India assured that another Dornier would be supplied within two years after the deployment of the first naval Dornier – a short takeoff and landing multirole light transport aircraft with a turboprop twin-engine, in production since 1981.

An Indian statement said: “The aircraft would act as a force multiplier, enabling Sri Lanka to tackle multiple challenges, such as human and drug trafficking, smuggling and other organized forms of crime, in its coastal waters, more effectively. Induction of the aircraft is timely in view of the current challenges to Sri Lanka’s maritime security.”

Bankrupt Sri Lanka should be grateful for Australian and Indian stepped up assistance at a time the country is experiencing a deepening economic-political-social crisis. Obviously, the crisis here can be a push factor for more Sri Lankans to risk their lives to reach foreign lands. However, the military’s growing dependence on foreign assistance must be a matter for concern for all as there is always the danger of being smothered by the giant neighbour or being unnecessarily dragged into a wider conflict between between the Quad on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Recently, India announced further help to the SLAF. The announcement was made during the four-day official visit of Chief of Air Staff Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari earlier this month. The Indian air chief was here on the invitation of SLAF Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana.

During the visit, Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari laid the foundation stone for the construction of the India-Sri Lanka Friendship Auditorium at the Air Force Academy, Trincomalee. In line with New Delhi’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy,’ the project would be carried out under a 250 mn LKR grant assistance from India. The Indian air chief also donated AN-32 propellers to the SLAF, at the China Bay Air Force Academy, and at the National Defence College training aids were donated to students.

In addition to massive economic assistance provided in the recent past to Sri Lanka struggling on the financial front, the Indian investment, in the defence sector, is rapidly growing.

Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob, in late February this year, underscored the Indian investment when he addressed the Indian Navy-trained Sri Lankan military personnel on board Offshore Patrol vessel Sukanya in Colombo. The Indian High Commission quoted Jacob as having stressed that training is the strongest and most enduring pillar of bilateral defence cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. The Deputy High Commissioner declared that India offered approximately 1500 training slots every year, to Sri Lanka, financed through a special programme with an annual allocation of USD 7 million.

Security sector reforms

Last week’s midweek piece, titled ‘Blind security reforms: Assurance to US on the size of military’, attracted the attention of quite a number of military officers, including the retired. They queried whether a proper and cohesive assessment has been made before the declaration that the 200,000 plus wartime strength (2009) would be reduced to 135,000 by 2024 and 100,000 by 2030.

One retired General, who had served the infantry and considered one of the foremost battlefield strategists, pointed out that the projected downsizing/right sizing of the Army, should be studied, taking into consideration the current strength. “Do not forget we are already down to 160,000 officers and men,” the retired General said, while another pointed out AWOL (‘absence without leave’ seems to be quite a problem). A retired General Officer Commanding (GoC) of a fighting division on the Vanni front emphasized the need to examine how the proposed reduction would affect post-war deployment and what is the land mass of ‘Eelam State’ (north east districts) and in relation to the drop in ground strength.

In the absence of a cohesive strategy, in relation to vital sectors, including defence, Sri Lanka seems to have neglected matters of utmost importance. Against the backdrop of a worsening situation, regardless of the USD 2.9 bn IMF package, spread over a period of 48 months, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the need to be cautious and be ready to meet any eventuality. In line with the Army, the Navy and Air Force are also to be slimmer and the fact that the downsizing of overall military strength takes place at a time of great political uncertainty and economic upheaval.

In March, Deputy Indian High Commissioner Jacob underscored the importance of Indo-Lanka relations on the basis of five areas of particular significance in the immediate short and medium term objectives.

Addressing Indian and Sri Lankan military personnel, onboard Sukanya, Jacob declared: “First is the potential for economic and financial cooperation by building on the Indian support to the people of Sri Lanka, in 2022, to the tune of USD 4 billion. The Indian HC quoted Jacob as having emphasized that focus could be laid on areas, such as trade, in national currencies, ease of investments and strengthening financial cooperation. “Second, the two sides are working towards increasing air, ferry, digital and energy connectivity. Third, a new type of development cooperation partnership, building on the existing multi-billion portfolio with special emphasis on vulnerable communities, is required. Fourth, both sides need to enhance people to people exchanges, particularly in tourist movements. Fifth, it is essential to strengthen the cultural, religious, music, movie and sporting links for mutual benefit.”

The Indian High Commission media statements present a clear picture of Indo-Lanka developments. A recent Indian High Commission statement that dealt with a visit undertaken by Indian Navy Ship ‘Batti Malv’ to Trincomalee disclosed hitherto unknown information.

Let me reproduce the relevant section from the media statement dated 17 May. The statement issued soon after the vessel departed Trincomalee made an important reference to further Indian support. “The visit of the Indian ship Batti Malv, a fast patrol craft, is also significant in view of the potential for cooperation between India and Sri Lanka for augmenting capabilities of Sri Lanka Navy in similar fast patrol craft for efficiently addressing shared challenges for maritime security in the region,” the High Commission stated.

However, the statement issued by SLN, on that particular ship visit, didn’t make any reference to the possibility of a similar type vessel being made available to Sri Lanka. The locally built 46 m long vessel, crewed by five officers and 54 men, was inducted into the Indian Navy in July 2006, the year Sri Lanka launched a combined forces campaign to eradicate the LTTE.

Since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, in May 2009, India gradually advanced its relationship with a series of military visits at different levels, though the progress was slow. But, over the past several years, there has been a steady enhancement of the relationship which sort of coincided with the deterioration of the national economy.

The Indian Western Fleet visited Colombo and the China-managed Hambantota port, in the second week of March, last year, as Sri Lanka was heading for an unprecedented crisis over the collapse of supply chains.

Four ships of the Western Fleet under the charge of Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet (FOCWF),

Rear Admiral Sameer Saxena visited Sri Lanka. The indigenous guided missile frigate BRAHMAPUTRA along with frigate TALWAR entered Hambantota port while advanced indigenous destroyer INS CHENNAI and frigate TEG entered Colombo harbour. In spite of being invited to join a reception, onboard INS Chennai, on 10 March, the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa skipped the event. Instead, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris represented the President. The other notable invitee was Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeyawardena.

A few weeks later, the Indian High Commission had to deny reports of Indian military deployment here in the wake of the eruption of public anger, near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana. In brief statements, issued in English, Sinhala and Tamil, the High Commission of India strongly denied, what it called, blatantly false and completely baseless reports in a section of media that India is dispatching its soldiers to Sri Lanka.

The High Commission statement, dated 02 April, 2022, also condemned what it described as irresponsible reporting while expressing the belief those responsible for spreading rumours would desist from doing so.

Delhi’s assistance seemed vast with the Indian Navy actively engaged with Sri Lanka Navy in facilitating engagements, like Deck Landing Practice and Co-pilot experience on indigenous ALHand Sail Training Experience onboard INS Tarangini for SLAF/ SLN personnel in March 2022.

In line with India’s Neighbourhood First Policy, spares for SLNS Sagara, SLCG Suraksha and AN 32 are being provided, on grant basis, by New Delhi, to ensure, what the Indian High Commission called, optimal operational availability of the platform and thereby improve security in the region.

Sri Lanka should take stock of overall foreign military assistance to the post-war military as Sri Lanka faced growing international criticism over accountability issues. Canada has taken the anti-Sri Lanka project to a new extreme by declaring Tamils were subjected to genocide. In a bid to appease powerful Diaspora groups, Canadian parliament has targeted Sri Lanka with the declaration that two former Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, are war criminals, is a clear move to inspire countries, with large communities of Sri Lankan origin, to act in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has pathetically failed to counter the Canadian project, built on the preposterous accusation that over 40,000 Tamils perished during the final phase of the combined security forces offensive on the Vanni east front. This is despite even UN internal documents placing casualties in the north, during the final phases of fighting, to be in the region of 7000.

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Midweek Review

Ceylon tree healing a cut: perfuming the striking axe



By Prof. Kirthi Tennakone

The genius British chemist Sir Humphry Davy scribbled a stanza in his notebook, saying he is like the fair Ceylon tree, which heals a cut and perfumes the axe by secreting an oil – a strange comparison.

That illustrious tree is on the verge of extinction. We cut down trees, feeding and protecting us. Yet trees are not after vengeance, they perspire (transpire) to save us from extinction.

Humphry Davy

Humphry Davy, one of the greatest exponents of the scientific method with a poetic inclination, was born in December 1778 in the remote coastal town of Penance, in Cornwall, England. While studying at the grammar school, he wrote poetry and wandered in the beaches and woods, but could not finish schooling. At sixteen, his father died. To support the family, Davy worked as an apprentice to an apothecary and acquainted a liking for chemistry. He pilfered chemicals from the shelves and did experiments at home, learning chemistry by himself. Noting his exceptional talent, an informed friend of his mother, introduced him to Thomas Beddoes, a physician philanthropist and prolific writer, noteworthy for controversial views. Deeply concerned about the poor suffering tuberculosis, he ran a hospital treating patients free and hoped to find a cure for the disease.

Dr. Beddoes employed Davy in his institute, devoted to studying the medicinal properties of gases. After day and night experimentation, Davy exclaimed breathing nitrous oxide (subsequently known as laughing gas) induces a pleasant calmness, suggesting a way to relieve the pain of operations.

The close associates of Dr. Beddoes were equally radical poets; Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They not only risked the repressive actions of the British Government by openly supporting the ideals of the French Revolution but volunteered as guinea pigs to test Davy’s hypothesis. Robert Southey after inhaling nitrous oxide, said “The atmospheres of the highest of all possible heavens must be composed of this gas”. Samuel Coleridge was more realistic. He described the experience of inhaling laughing gas as the sudden transfer from a chilly winter to a warm spring. William Wordsworth, another friend of Beddoes, visited Humphrey Davy and consented that poetry and chemistry are similar because both subjects deal with material things.

The invention of the first anesthetic agent and acclaim by eminent literary men qualified Humphry Davy, who had no college degree, for a professorship at the prestigious Royal Institution in London. There he performed extraordinarily. Today, we insist on a first-class degree for the same job!

At the Royal Institution, Davy made groundbreaking discoveries one after another. Isolated eight chemical elements for the first time, opened the field of electrochemistry and showed the world how to liquefy gases. He invented the safety lamp to light coal mines while preventing flammable gases existing there from catching fire explosively.

As a tradition, the Royal Institution presented lectures to the general public highlighting the achievements of science. Humphry Davy’s lectures were one of the most popular events in London, at that time. The theater was packed with people from all walks of life. Appreciating his intellect and stunning good looks, aristocratic women admired him. Men raising their hands volunteered lifting things to the podium.

In one of his lectures, Davy showed a piece of potassium metal, first extracted and named by him and dropped it into water. Astounding the audience, the material caught fire with a purplish flame and exploded. People saw something dropped into water catch fire, for the first time. Seventy-odd years ago, I witnessed the same experiment as a seventh grader in a rural school and displayed by a teacher from South India. Today, the phenomenon is rarely demonstrated in chemistry classes in our schools. Students have no time or interest in experiencing inspirational fascinations. They hurry to tutors to cram the workings of the ‘covalent bond’ fitting atoms in organic molecules, merely to pass an exam and become specialists! No new discoveries of anesthetics or cures, but escalating fees for consultations. The problem seems to be that we do chemistry without poetry and specialization without empathy.

In 1820, Humphry Davy was elected president of the Royal Society unopposed. Despite its supremacy, the body functioned as a club of literary elites proud of a degree from Oxford after schooling in Eaton. Davy proposed changes to orient society’s affairs more towards scientific inquiry and promote greater public participation. Unfortunately, he met with opposition and criticism. Although his achievements were incomparable, he didn’t belong to the elite group.

Davy was a victim of jealousy. No man or woman succeeds in all endeavors. Yet just one failure suffices for adversaries to discredit him or her. In 1823, the British Admiralty requested Davy to find a solution to the problem of the corrosion of the copper- clad bottoms of naval vessels. He provided an ingenious method, but did not work in this particular case. Davy’s opponents diverted the incident to blemish his reputation in the eyes of the British Establishment.

Davy, in a depressed mood and not experienced enough to face criticism, drafted a verse. Telling us he is like the fair Ceylon plant, the Cingalese tree, which heals a cut by secreting a balmy oil to prevent its decay, while perfuming the axe, a poetic way of expressing his feelings. Possibly, this means, he was not defamed by the attacks of his enemies but instead blessed them.

Humphry Davy didn’t name the tree. Undoubtedly, he heard a story from his younger brother, John Davy, who visited Sri Lanka and looked at many things in our country, curiously and rationally.

John Davy, a surgeon and chemist was posted to Sri Lanka in 1816 as a physician for the British Armed Forces. However, his primary mission has been carrying out scientific investigations in the colony, conquered a year ago. During his nearly four years of occupation, he traveled all over the island, examining the natural environment, indigenous technologies and cultural practices in the country. While in Sri Lanka, he wrote to his brother frequently, presenting his experience in the alien land. On September 18, 1817, Humphry Davy, read a letter from his brother at the Proceedings of the Royal Society describing his journey to Adams Peak, accompanied by Alexander Moon, the Superintendent of Botanical Gardens, Kalutara. Both of them curious about flora in the Island, came to know the trees used by the inhabitants to extract resin.

When a Doona tree is incised, a pleasant smelling, clear resinous liquid secretes, wetting the axe. Our indigenous people (Veddas) were the first to use the resin as medicine and incense. They saw how the resin oozing after strike of an axe, closed and healed the cut. If the axe bruises the hand accidentally, they ran to a Doona tree and applied the resin and it worked. Later, to extract the resin, trees were wounded multiple times, but plants still survived because the exudate prevented the rot.

The local population exploited aboriginal technology for profit. To get more oil, they axed tree and burnt the wound, eventually killing the tree.

A craft and a paying export business in those days (the1800s), was tapping resin (gas dummala) from Doona (Shorea zeylanica) and related species of trees belonging to the family dipterocarpaceae (dipterocarps). Arabian traders purchased the product, used for making incense, perfumes and varnish and shipped it to Europe and China The thicker resinous oil secreted by the Dorana tree was used mainly for making paints.

Undoubtedly, John Davy, told his brother, what he learned in Sri Lanka. The “fair Cingalese tree of Davy” is certainly a Doona species, not cinnamon, as speculated by a European historian. Cinnamon doesn’t fit into the story.


Dipterocarps were the dominant species of trees in our forests and thickets everywhere centuries ago. Think for a moment about why there are so many villages and place names with prefixes; Hora, Dorana and Doona. For example, “Horana”, derived from “Hora Arana” means a forest of Hora trees. Today, a Hora tree is hard to spot in a village. As a child, I played with the spinning fruits of the Hora tree, not remotely maneuvered helicopter drones but later understood the mathematics of aerodynamics.

No more Hora, Doona and Dorana trees in Horanpella, Doonagaha and Doranagoda. A few of these in Sinharaja and other reserves need to be saved preciously.

Again, guess why there are more than one hundred villages and localities in Sri Lanka with the prefix “Dummala”. The fossilised resin of dipterocarp vegetation is dummala (bimdummala). The occurrence of dummala in the locality is the origin of these names. Tens of thousands of years ago, dipterocarp plants existed in abundance. Their resins, resistant to decomposition, accumulated in the soil as dummala.

The plant family dipterocarpacae is a fascinating evolutionary marvel. Originating in Africa more than 100 million years ago, they drifted to India, Sri Lanka and other parts of Southeast Asia. While retaining primitive characters, the family diversified to suit the environment. In a dipterocarp – dominated rain forest, there are tall as well as short species of trees, trapping sunlight optimally and thereby capturing large quantities of carbon. They are the ‘thermostats’ of the planet.

The dominance of dipterocarps owes much to the wind dispersal of seeds. When the winged fruit falls after ripening, they spin like helicopter propellers and carried away by the wind. The average distance the fruit deposits on the ground is not too far from the base of the parent tree, but greater than the width of its canopy, so that the seedling is not shadowed by the parent. The roots of the parent tree extend a distance greater than the canopy width. Seeds deposited in the vicinity of the roots of the parent tree and beyond the extent of the canopy have a special advantage because roots harbor symbiotic fungi. Thus, the seeding gain ready access to sunlight and fungi in soil the promoting growth.

Dipterocarps, so common everywhere in our land until recent times, are now endangered. When John Davy visited Sri Lanka, there were no tea or rubber plantations. Clearing land for cultivation eliminated a good portion of trees. Unfortunately, despite inviting danger, the species yields quality wood. Therefore overexploited for timber, legally and illegally. Many truckloads of timber, would have been used to build one mansion out of unjustly earned money. Imagine the number of trees felled!

They are fast losing hold in other parts of the region because of extensive logging and the expansion of land use.

Dipterocarps survived natural catastrophes such as mega volcanic eruptions, glaciation and asteroid impacts. They have peacefully coexisted with dinosaurs for 65 million years; providing them; food, shade and oxygen. Contrastingly to humans, these mighty animals did not threaten their proliferation. Occasionally, a tree may have been injured by goring creatops (horned dinosaurs), but the oily resin secreted cured the injury.

After an asteroid impact on Earth in the month of June 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and many kinds of plants died out, but dipterocarps survived. Yet they struggle to escape the threat of humans.

Given, sufficient time, evolution is capable of achieving almost ‘anything’ not forbidden by the laws of nature. Through prolonged existence, dipterocarps have acquired and inherited unique characters to suit the environment. Their extinction would irreparably damage the rainforest ecosystem.

I was inspired to be fascinated by the wonders of dipterocarpaceae by my elder brother, the late Jayasumana Tennakone, who played with me, throwing Hora fruits into the air and watching how they spin. We were questioning, how it decides to rotate either clockwise or anticlockwise. Two decades later, the idea helped me fathom a concept in the theory of elementary particle physics.

A part of my ancestral village, Matikotumulla, in the Gampha District, goes by the name “Dummaladeniya”, a beautiful marshy area with paddy fields and a stream. My father walked us to this part of the village frequently. We picked up sizeable pieces of dummala from the stream. He said these are fossils of plants and cannot be minerals. Later, I was enthralled to learn dummala is derived from dipterocarpaceae.

Once, I walked miles in the wilderness to see a Dorana tree. What I saw was a giant tree on its deathbed, tortured by severely burned wounds!

(The author can be reached via

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Midweek Review

The Snoozing Sires



By Lynn Ockersz

In a decades-long blissful slumber,

Have these our flabby Sires been,

Charged with eyeing the public coffers,

But fixated more on survival tactics,

As dusty tax files rose in a spiral,

And Sharks made good their escape,

While Sprats were left behind,

To fend off brow-beating taxmen,

In a hurry to recoup un-fazing losses,

But better late than never,

And with the wise we hasten to add;

‘Good Morning Sires, glad you’ve woken,

On seeing the works of glorified salesmen,

Who struck it rich while you slumbered;

Get the Department to get its act together,

Seize those runaway Sharks in a drag-net,

And give back to the people their billions.’

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