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Satellite pictures reveal LTTE runways

London: Analysis of high-resolution commercially available satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe and GeoEye has allowed Jane’s Intelligence Review to verify that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) constructed two 1,000 m paved runways between 2002 and 2007. One of these runways is currently being extended to 2,000 m.

According to a news release by Jane’s, these airstrips are unnecessarily long for the light aircraft that the LTTE uses for aerial attacks and are probably intended to handle larger cargo planes delivering weapon shipments. One such shipment of artillery shells remains stranded in a Central Asian country after Russian intervention to prevent its delivery to northern Sri Lanka.

Christian LeMiere, Editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, commented: “While the imagery does not confirm the airstrips are in use, the investment of significant resources suggests the LTTE has developed facilities that can serve air logistics needs at a critical time in its three-decade war with the Sri Lankan state. Jane’s can also confirm that the LTTE has made at least one attempt to arrange for a consignment of artillery rounds to be flown in.”

The construction of a highly visible runway could be seen as part of the LTTE’s ambitions to develop the trappings of an independent political state, complete with an airport.

There is no evidence of the airstrip being used to launch any of the nine missions flown by the LTTE’s Zlin-143 aircraft. Indeed, it quickly became apparent that the airstrip at Iranamadu was probably not being used in the attacks at all. It is highly visible to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) reconnaissance flights, vulnerable to air strikes, and unnecessarily long for the Z-143, which can take off and land in under 600 m, according to Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.