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The War Nerd June 1, 2007
 
No Paper Tigers
Q: Why Did The Tamil Cross The Road? A: To Kill The Other Side By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 

Ah, that's wonderful. You hear how pissed-off Gen. Fonseka is at these upstarts daring to imitate the big-budget players by claiming an "air attack"? Back in Victorian times, having a navy made you a playa. Now, it's having an air force. That's what makes the General so mad. It just ain't fair!

As for his grenade-on-a-swing idea, I wish he'd come up with that back when I was in third grade. That idea would've made me drool with joy - drool more than I already was drooling, that is. If only I'd known a swing was an air force! I'd have had my dirtclod cluster munitions sending death from above on the popular kids before homeroom!

In a tech sense, he's right. The LTTE air attacks didn't do much direct damage. But if there's one thing I keep trying to teach you metal-head hardware freaks, it's that the tech sense is the least important aspect of war these days. Look at the bigger picture and you can see that these "militarily insignificant" rebel raids had a huge effect.

Even in terms of damage, the raids were true "force multipliers," because they got the enemy - the Sri Lankan military - to magnify the damage. Take the third LTTE air attack on April 28, which set fire to an oil storage tank farm on the outskirts of Columbo. Consider the radiating waves of damage the raid caused.

Direct damage was very minor - a few hundred gallons of oil burned. But the island's oil suppliers panicked, and as a result supplies of cooking oil stopped for hundreds of thousands of locals. Everyone who went hungry will remember that raid, that sense that the guv'mint let 'em down, lied when they said they had the rebels under control. That's a real morale-buster.

But the real genius of a wildcat air strike like this is that it sets off all the anti-aircraft batteries surrounding the capital, and THEY do the real damage. You see, unguided AA artillery is one of the worst weapons in the inventory. It dates back to pre-radar days, and it's really just light art'y firing altitude-fused shells. Somebody hears enemy engines overhead and your battery gets a call to start throwing up flak - throwing it blind, because I'll guarantee that the average Sri Lankan AA unit does NOT have a radar system capable of finding a low, slow-flying enemy aircraft.

Now, ever wonder what happens to all those thousands of shells the AA is sending up? If you're lucky, they explode at the set altitude (which is probably thousands of feet above the enemy planes' altitude if the enemy is using the low 'n' slow technique).

But it's what happens when those shells don't explode that really multiplies the effect of the raid. They come down. On the city they're supposed to be protecting. And here again, you can be lucky or unlucky. If you're lucky, they come down as duds, and unless you take one on the head they're just souvenirs (until somebody bumps into one on his scooter next morning, and then it's the Ultimate Speed Bump). But a lot of these cheap shells (and I'm guessing the Sri Lankan Army went to the bulk bins when they bought their AA shells) explode when they hit the ground.

That's the genius of the Doolittle-type raids: you get the enemy to contribute matching bombs at a rate of about 100:1! You throw down a couple of homemade gravity bombs, and the enemy kicks in thousands of his own! It's a 3-D version of the old circular firing squad!

But the fun doesn't stop there. Quiz: next to unguided AA, what's the most self-destructive technique a city can adopt against air attack? A: blackouts. They don't work the way they're supposed to, because for God's sake it's 2007 and every car on the road has GPS - you really think the enemy pilots can't tell when they're over your city, even if it was as blacked-out as Pyongyang on a rainy Tuesday night? Not to mention that the pilots in question here are INDIANS, for Christ's sake, which means not only are they born tech geeks but they can get top-of-the-line GPS from their cousin Sandeep at the Jaffna Radio Shack for a price that would make Lord Buddha himself weep. (Yeah, I know the Tamils are Hindus and the Sinhalese are Buddhists, which is why I had the fat guy weeping, OK? Gimme a little credit here!)


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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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