FRESNO, CA -- Readers have been writing me saying, "Gary, man, Iraq's a real downer, why don't you write about the fun wars for a change?"
They've got a point, because there are lots of fun wars going on right now. My favorite has to be the slow, quirky, curry cookin' in Sri Lanka.
I've already written about the start of the war and the main players: http://www.exile.ru/2003-June-26/warnerd.html, and I did an update when the latest truce broke down a few months ago: http://www.exile.ru/2006-September-08/srilanka.html
But the latest episodes in the Sri Lankan war have been so choice I just have to show the Tamils some more love. Ever since they dished that lame, Norwegian-brokered truce and went back to what they do best, the un-peace-loving people of Sri Lanka have shown the world what you can do with a bit of imagination, a couple of old airplanes and rusty fishing boats, and plenty of that ol' can-do, will-kill spirit.
The main Tamil insurgent group, the LTTE, has been absolutely outstanding in using every resource to bring its message to the people. In my first column I called the LTTE "Terrorists with an Air Force," and this April the LTTE finally committed its entire AF to the attack! Yes, the skies over the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, darkened as swarms of rebel aircraft swooped in for the kill, hitting the city three times in a row. I love the comment made by one retired Sri Lankan general after the third attack: "One attack is understandable, but there is something wrong when the Air Force is not able to take them out after three attacks!"
What really shamed the Sri Lankan armed forces was that the LTTE carried out these attacks using converted Czech prop planes, East Bloc Cessna-type subcompacts called the Zlin Z-143. Here's some more weird comedy: Zlin's advertizing slogan for the Z-143 is that it's the plane "...for pilots who want more than flying from Point A to Point B." Such as, I guess, "dropping an incendiary bomb on Point C," with Point C standing for "Columbo."
The effectiveness of these cropduster CAS craft is one more nail in the coffin of pure-hardware/hi-tech war diehards. Over and over we keep seeing that these low 'n' slow prop planes can be more effective ground attack weapons than the shiny flying dragsters that Top Gun types like to fly.
Take America's own A-10 Warthog. I remember back when it was in the procurement cycle, the USAF hated the A-10, bad-mouthed it every chance they got. One fighter jock said, "It's built to take a lot of hits and boy is it going to take a lot of hits." A lot of other pilots just said out loud, "It's ugly." The AF wanted to invest in another generation of flying Porsches, and the Army, naturally, tried to drag the money into up-armored choppers, resulting in the AH-64, the Y2K of attack aircraft - all hype, no kills. Little Orphan A-10, the Warthog nobody loved, ended up saving Christmas for everybody, becoming the best CAS aircraft in the world.
And I really love the Sri Lankan AF's explanation for not being able to knock down the rebel planes: they were "too slow" to be intercepted by the AF's fast, expensive foreign-built fighters. Lord, I knew pilots were snobs, but that's going a little far even for a fighter jock: "Nope! Those enemy planes are too slow! Not in my contract! And remember, no more brown M&Ms in the officers' lounge!"
Well, you might say, what about all the heavily armed helicopters in the Sri Lankan inventory? They're slow enough to take on the rebels' sneaky slo-pitch attackers, right? Wrong. The one time the army scrambled an Mi-24 to intercept incoming LTTE planes, the chopper had to crash-land "due to mechanical failure."
That's what I love about this war, the Apu-voice comedy of it all. The Sri Lankan officers are all Brit-trained, mustached, paunchy dudes who talk like snooty, hungover Monty Python characters. Just take the way the reaction of Gen. Fonseka, Sri Lankan Army Chief of Staff after an LTTE air strike: "It is a joke! You can drop a bomb from any flying thing! Even tossing a grenade while riding a swing is an 'air attack'!"