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Cablegate: Sri Lanka Requests Us Military Team to Assess Air Defense Following Ltte Air Attack

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INFO RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3645
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0815
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7563
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L COLOMBO 000516

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA AND PM, USPACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/31/2017
TAGS: MASS PTER PREL CE IN
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA REQUESTS US MILITARY TEAM TO ASSESS AIR DEFENSE FOLLOWING LTTE AIR ATTACK

REF: COLOMBO 491

Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) Summary: Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa convoked Ambassador and Defense Attache on March 30 to request the visit of a U.S. military team to assess how Sri Lanka can improve its air defense capabilities to defend against possible future LTTE air attacks. Rajapaksa outlined the country's current radar configuration and asked for U.S. radars to augment Indian-supplied two dimensional radars and the soon-to-be-completed purchase of a Chinese three dimensional radar. Ambassador underscored that if the U.S. agrees to this request, we would want to work transparently with India. The Secretary confirmed that would be fine, but noted that Sri Lanka would want to approach India before the U.S. makes contact on this issue. Embassy recommends the USG respond positively to the GSL request for an assessment team.
End summary.

AIR DEFENSE CONCERNS AS A RESULT OF LTTE ATTACK

2. (C/NF) Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka had known about the LTTE's efforts to create an air wing for at least eight years, including full knowledge that the LTTE had at least two aircraft. While the government had made efforts to build an air defense system, the recent LTTE air raid (ref) demonstrated that the current system is not sufficient to counter the LTTE's offensive air capability. The Defense Secretary said that radars in Vavuniya had picked up an SIPDIS unidentified aircraft as had the civilian radar at the airport at the last minute, but otherwise the attack had escaped detection. The aircraft was able to travel from the north along the western interior of the country over Wilpattu National ark, strike the airfield and return to the north. Rajapaksa indicated the LTTE attack caused only sight damage to several helicopters including twoMI-17 helicopters on loan from India. The bombs ad exploded when they hit the roofs of the hangas, mitigating the effects of the bombs. The bomb had also been packed with pellets rather than icendiary charges that might have caused more damag. He pointed out that the bombs hit only in and around the hangars supporting helicopters; Sri Lakan Air Force Jets were not in the area attacked and not damaged.

RADAR SYSTEMS NOT SUFFICIENT

3. (C/NF) Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka's curren radar systems are not sufficient to meet the LTTE air threat. He told the Ambassador India provided two radars that have two dimensional capabilities and would provide two more radars in the future. Sri Lanka had been working with India to receive three dimensional radars but after years of not receiving them, decided to purchase a Chinese system that is now in the process of being installed. In addition to the radar systems, Rajapaksa noted that not a single L70 anti aircraft fire direction radar - ALSO provided by India - was working making any attempts to shoot down an aircraft at night difficult.

U.S. ASSISTANCE REQUESTED

4. (C/NF) The Defense Secretary requested U.S. military assistance in assessing Sri Lanka's entire Air Defense System and help in acquiring the hardware required to UPGRADE their system. The Defense Secretary opined that a U.S. radar may be needed, but noted the first step must be a professional military assessment of Sri Lanka's whole air defense system. He asked that the US military send such a team. He specifically requested that the team comprise professional military officers and not contractors.

5. (C/NF) Ambassador responded that the Embassy would convey Sri Lanka's request to Washington immediately. Noting the assistance the Government of India had already provided for Sri Lanka's air defense system and the importance of working in a transparent manner, the Ambassador asked, if Washington decides to approve Sri Lanka's request, whether the Government of Sri Lanka would have any objection to the U.S. team briefing India either before or after their visit to Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa responded that he would have no objection to coordinating with India. He suggested that the U.S. should first decide if it can send a team, after which Sri Lanka would inform the Government of India.

MILITARY AIR BASE TO MOVE

6. (C/NF) As part of the effort to address the newly exposed weaknesses, Rajapaksa revealed that he has asked the Sri Lankan Air Force to move its base from the Katunayaka within two months. He noted that the base was in the process of being moved to Sigirya Air Force Base in north central Sri Lanka some years ago but had to be stopped because of an environmental court case. He said that the air force is considering Sigirya air base or Higurajgoda (Minneriya) air base as its new location.

COMMENT AND ACTION REQUEST

7. (C) Embassy recommends Washington approve the Government of Sri Lanka's request to send an assessment team. Since Sri Lanka remains vulnerable to another attack, we recommend this take place as soon as possible. Rajapaksa clearly understood that if a team is approved and if they recommend the acquisition of new radar, such radar would likely not be free of charge. He also commented that given the assistance the U.S. already has provided to help Sri Lanka establish maritime surveillance radars under Section 1206, there might be some merit in establishing an integrated air and maritime system.
BLAKE

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