The Sea Tigers at War: Innovativeness married to Experiential Art

 Rear. Admiral Y.N. Jayarathne …. whose preferred title for this article isPrinciples of the Swarming Concepts” …. and where the black highlights are his work

Situational awareness

The Sea Tiger, enemy we fought at sea, was a ‘worthy enemy’ as I recall! This enemy (when I say enemy it is not an individual that I am referring to but the group or the collection of individuals) evolved from a fisheries background: thus they knew the ground (the sea, the marine environment and the marine weather.  In any fishing community there always will be weather forecasters who would say whether it is going to rain or sea is going to be rough by simply looking at the clouds and environment), new the trade of seafaring; how to manoeuvre/navigate the boats and new how to repair, modify and manufacture boats! All these were passed down the generations through experience and wisdom, and not by formal education at school. So, they were psychologically empoweredphysically fit by knowing how to swim at sea (a tremendous self-confidence factor in personal capacity) and professionally competent for the trade!

Situational awareness gains by experience by simply knowing what is happening around you. At sea, both friend and foe are exposed, there is no cover to hide from where one stands! So good eyesight and good hearing was the beginning (and all fishermen have these qualities), then with introduction of low-power Dome-type radars, what is happening just beyond the horizon (human eye will see something around 6 nautical miles radius, and these low-power radar gave the edge to ‘see’ beyond that to 12 nautical miles or so). These were the ranges of engagement, as you don’t want to know where or how far your support forces is or where the land is etc! Then the situational awareness demanded how to read the developing combat scenarios at sea; for this one need continuous observation of behavioural patterns of the enemy (in this case the Navy vessels), how the enemy manoeuvre, around what speed, why is he slowing in his speed, how far is the buddy unit, are the targets head-sea or astern-sea, how enemy is responding to you fire etc.

If the separatist terrorist’s Sea Tiger Unit is opening fire from far away from the effective range it meant that the enemy was not willing to engage, they just wanted you to be chased and scared away! If the Sea Tiger Unit does not open fire till he reaches close ranges, that means the unit is determined to fight and engage. The main guns the Sea tigers Attack Craft used were 23mm ZSU twin barrel East-European make had an effective range of 2500m (more details of how 23mm ZSU became the separatist terrorists favoured weapon will be in a separate Newsletter!). Later the Sea Tigers switched to 14.5 mm twin barrel Chinese made gun because it had the same effective range with low ware & tare thus, giving longer combat usage. But 23mm ZSU had a devastating effect when the round hit aluminium/steel surfaces as the round generate fragmentation effect! These fragments have collateral effect on board especially the Fast Attack Craft of the SL Navy. So, selecting which type of ammunition to use; HEIT for maximum destructive effect (HE round has SD (Self Destructive) effect at its maximum effective range), APIT for long range hits (Armour Piercing does not have the SD effect), which weapon to use etc all comes under the situational awareness.

As you see, fighting asymmetric wars at sea became a Science & an Art; but within circumstances where science can be taught, but art must be acquired.

SOME ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTOs added by The Editor, Thuppahi

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An Editor’s Note:

Though the author takes it as read & widely known, readers should attend to the fact that Velupillai Pirapaharan,  Soosai, KP Pathmanathan and several LTTE leaders were from the Karaiyar caste, a fishing people — many of whom lived along the sea coasts of the north and east.


Michael Roberts: Tamil Person & State: Essays, Colombo. vijitha Yapa Publications, 2012

Michael Roberts: Tamil Person & State: Pictorials, Colombo. vijitha Yapa Publications, 2012

Dishan Joseph 2021 “The Elite Naval Commandos Special Boat Squad with the Motto “Fortune Favors the Brave’,”

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Serge 2009f “Maritime Counter-Terrorism and the Sri Lanka Navy,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, November 2009, vol 35, pp. 32-33.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Serge 2009g “Lessons in Maritime Counter Insurgency,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, January 2010, vol 36, pp 50-53.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Serge 2010b “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War, Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010, vol. 30/4. pp. 35-37.

Jane’s Naval Intelligence 2009 “Sri Lanka learns to counter Sea Tigers’ Swarm Tactics,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, pp. 20-26.

Roberts, Michael 2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 30 (10): October 2007, pp. 857-88.

Michael Roberts 2014 Tamil Person & State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.

KG Shantha n. d.

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One response to “The Sea Tigers at War: Innovativeness married to Experiential Art

  1. Maj Richard Hermon

    Rear Admiral YN Jayarathna is a personal friend of mine and is an Outstanding Naval Officer whose opinion and views I respect completely. .I have read this article with interest and look forward to seeing more of the same.
    Maj Richard Hermon RAAC (Rtd)

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