In Sri Lanka, the rebel Tamil
organization, the LTTE, has acquired an air force in the form of 2-5 light,
single engine aircraft. Operating from roads in the northern part of the
island, the LTTE aircraft have made two bombing raids so far, coming in just
before dawn, and dropping a few hundred pounds of small bombs. Sightings
indicate that the aircraft are Czech made Zlin 143 L aircraft (or related
models). This is a single engine, four seat aircraft, that costs about $75,000
each. With a max takeoff weight of 1.3 tons, the aircraft could carry two
pilots (or, in this case, one pilot and one bombardier) and about 400 pounds of
bombs. The aircraft has a max speed of 262 kilometers an hour, and a cruising
speed of 209 kilometers an hour. It can stay in the air for about six hours.
This enables the LTTE aircraft to easily make it from a base in the north, to
any target on the island. The Zlins have selected routes that avoid military
bases, and thus decrease the chances of being detected and shot at.
The Z 143 needs about a thousand feet of hard surface
(a road would do) to get airborne, and about 1,300 feet of road to land. Taking
off in the post-midnight dark, the aircraft would be back by first light to
land. The aircraft fly low, and thus avoid radar. Flying at night, they are
even hard for anyone on the ground to spot. Dropping their bombs (out the
copilots door or from improvised racks under the cabin) does not reveal the
aircrafts location to anyone on the ground wanting to get a shot off. The bombs
were improvised, metal cylinders filled with plastic explosives and steel
balls. Each bomb appeared to weigh about a hundred pounds.
Fortunately for people on the ground, this bombing
at night is not very accurate, and there has been little damage done so far.
The aircraft go after large, well lit, targets (an army base and a fuel storage
depot). The latter target could have been a spectacular success if any of the
bombs ignited the fuel storage tanks below, but that did not happen. Previously, the LTTE had used light aircraft
to move key commanders around (especially to and from bases in southern India)
as well as carrying critical supplies (like medical stuff.) These bombing
operations are mainly a propaganda exercise, carried out because the LTTE is up
against the wall, and hard put to show any other kind of "victory."