Saturday, December 15, 2007

Suicide Boats: A Force Multiplier in Unconventional Warfare

Picture 1. The USS Cole bombing

2. The USS Cole, carried to the US.

The LTTE are the only guerilla cum insurgent cum terrorist organization with a naval capability in the world today. The Palestinians during their heyday in Lebanon had a small naval contingent mostly for infiltration and they too carried out a couple of suicide attacks using boats, with little success. Al-Qaeda executed a successful suicide mission on USS Cole in Yemen. The Sea Tigers evolved from the time honored tradition that existed of smuggling contraband from Sri Lanka to India and illegal immigrants.

Black Sea Tiger suicide boats operate in small numbers–taking cover amongst large numbers of fishing craft, or with other Sea Tiger craft or in a ‘pack’ of suicide boats with or without other Sea Tiger craft. They have been most effective when they operate as a flotilla of mixed craft – fast attack craft and suicide boats. They are used for Force Multiplication purposes in the Sea and also as deterrence. Many large Sea Tiger crafts like the Muraj often evade engaging the Powerful Dvora FAC/FPC MK. II and keep their distance, allowing small boats to take on the attack/pursuit. The Muraj usually acts as a Command Ship. The Idian fiberglass beat has a stealth-like design with possible iron-ball paint to reduce radar detection. They usually have detonation cones at the front. To keep the Navy guessing, Sea Tigers camouflage their stealth boats as fishing boats and change the number of passengers/suicide cadres. They are also known to use disabled persons as suicide bombers at sea. Despite these tactics, Navy FACs have managed to evade a large number of these attacks. But some have fallen prey to cunning Sea Tiger tactics like the use of suicide fishing boats.

Picture 1 and 2 shows the result of the suicide attack on the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) on October 12, 2000. Suicide boats are effective for attacking large slow-moving ships especially near docks. Sri Lanka Navy does not have large warships like the US but have Offshore Patrol Vessels and Fast Missile Cruisers that could become prime targets. The Jetliner fast transport ship is another target, which, to date, has evaded several Sea Tiger attacks due to its high speed.

The following table is presented in order to grasp the cost-benefit ratio of suicide tactics. Table 1 compares the ships, the known attacking methods and the Sea Tiger’s tactic in the last row.

Comparing anti-ship weapons and suicide attacks

Needed Platform (minimum requirement)

Cost (each)


Estimated Accuracy (targeting rate per 100 launching)



MK 48

Destroyer or Submarine(at least 209class)

2.5 million

Over 90

Greater than 5miles

Light Torpedo

MK 46

PT boat

(Torpedo boat)

1 million

Over 80





1.2~1.5 million

Over 90


Sunburn ASCM[2],



0.7~0.8 million (est)

Around 80


suicide attack

Regular 2 seated boat(Civilian goods) or Idian

USD 10,000 for a boat,
Including training for cadres and price of explosives

Over 90
(against Sri Lanka Navy FACs, passenger and Cargo Ship and Gunboats)

(cruising radius of small boat)

[1] the US Navy's sole anti-shipping missile

[2] anti-sub/ship cruise missile


hemantha said...

"suicide attack
Regular 2 seated boat(Civilian goods) or Idian
USD 10,000 for a boat,
Including training for cadres and price of explosives
Over 90
(against Sri Lanka Navy FACs, passenger and Cargo Ship and Gunboats)"

How did you calculate the accuracy of 90% for the above case?

Unknown said...

How did you calculate the accuracy of 90% for the above case?

Hemantha I assume it would be based on number of launched attacks versus how many actually succeeded?

londonistan said...

Is this plausible? 'Prabakharan Injured Slightly in Air Force Bombing' -

Sam Perera said...


"Is this plausible? 'Prabakharan Injured Slightly in Air Force Bombing' -"

Is this just a smoke screen to safeguard Velu or is this real.

Unknown said...

Is this news correct?

hemantha said...

"Hemantha I assume it would be based on number of launched attacks versus how many actually succeeded?"

Then the number should be much less than 90%.

TropicalStorm said...

By the way, the ship that carried the US ship was Norwegian.

Unknown said...

The Norwegians have always been bloody good ship builders.. Assume that the local boatbuilder "CeyNor" has Norwegian roots...
Chances are that some of those technical expertise must be filtering into to ltte also
Thanks to www even DIY high speed boatplans can be ordered via the web with complete instructions on the building process and tech support in web forums etc.
It's much easy to be a terrorist than be a defending force nowadays

thanks for the article on Naval matters :)
How do you think the seatigers are keeping there boats...the larger ones... Judging by the size of a Muraj it must pretty difficult to place it on a trailer and move it around...Even smaller IPC size crafts need a large trailer and a decent vehicle to pull it...not to mention decent roads etc...
So is it safe to assume that these are not trailered into the sea for action but kept moored in water itself?
Maybe they have them in rivers etc covered up with camo nets or something?
After seeing your earlier report that had a Mirage class patrol vessel under the tigers... If SLAF can get some info on their mooring places it might be much easier to target them when their idling in anchorage.
Any ideas how sea tigers operate in general other that what we have seen them do in battle?
Do they maintain boat repair/Build facilities? How they train etc?
I think they must be smuggling high HP motors from india since it's not available in SL...
Seems like sea tigers though have existed for many years have managed to be quite elusive... at least the web has very little about them out of battle

Defencewire said...

They rarely launched their larger gunboats. Most of the time they are kept inland. They are dragged inland and back to the shore on specially built trailers. They are hardly ever kept inside LTTE bases or even Sea Tiger bases. Civilian sources have confirmed to MI that these crafts are parked at random inside thick bush, school buildings etc.

Yes they do have fiberglass (even FRP) and steel boat-building capabilities.

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