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Not only Sri Lanka The world is prone to aviation terrorism

3 September 2015 07:53 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Countering this growing threat to security and development takes priority

Air Vice Marshal Sumangala Dias, Director Logistics spoke on ‘Emerging Aviation Threats; Challenges to National Security’ on the final day of a defence seminar which concluded on Wednesday. Excerpts of his speech: 

The transport revolution has evolved surpassing any other evolution in the world, paving the way for rapid and free movement of people, commodities and services on a global scale.

 In transport revolution, civil aviation is the aspect that has brought the greatest change. Now a day’s air transport is in a position to convey people and cargo to the remotest corners of the earth from anywhere else, in a journey of slightly over 24 hours. 

Air transportation is designed to be accessible and its main function is to concentrate passenger and freight flows. However, these features create much vulnerability for terrorist to exploit.

The first incident of modern aviation terrorism dates back to 1968 and the first incident in Sri Lanka was in 1986. The bombing of an Air Lanka flight by the LTTE in 1986 and subsequent attacks on aircraft and aviation infrastructure during the conflict period indicates how LTTE as a terrorist group was determined to cripple the country’s economy through acts of aviation terrorism. 

In this context, it is timely to create a safe and secure environment to flourish aviation in the country. Therefore, contemporary security threats such as aviation terrorism and its impact on national security has a direct bearing towards stability and development of a nation.

Preventing aviation terrorism is a collective responsibility of the defence apparatus and the Civil Aviation Authorities of a country in pursuit of national security.


 In spite of various lucrative targets that could be achieved easily, terrorists continue to exploit aviation as a means of terrorism.
Its citizens against all kind of “national” crises through the instruments of national power that consist of political power, diplomacy, economic power and military might..

Four terrorist killed 57 people in the London Underground attack on 7/7, 2005, but on 9/11 in the World Trade Centre, four terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people using two aircraft, attacked the heart of a highly defended world democracy and brought the super power to its knees for a moment. 
National security is a concept that a government, along with its parliament, should protect the state.

 Present aviation terrorism bears a direct impact on a nation’s economy and defence, thus becoming a national security concern and deems in-depth analysis and preventive measures to defend a nation against this growing threat. 

 Aviation terrorism has a long history 


 The first registered incident of aviation terrorism goes back to 1930, when Peruvian insurgents seized an airplane to scatter propaganda leaflets. 
 The largest terrorist attacks world has ever seen were the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Those were committed by hijacking civil airliners. For the first time, the air- planes were steered by suicide pilots. Instead of being employed as leverage for negotiations or as a platform for forward demands, the airliners were used as weapons similar to manned cruise missiles, designed for destroying specific targets. 

 There are various methods used by terrorists in today’s aviation terrorism

Methods used in Aviation Terrorism

 Based on the analyses of the modern dynamics and tendencies of international terrorism as a whole, categories of the existing threats related to aviation security are,

 a. Aircraft hijacking for exchange of hostages
 b. Aircraft hijacking for transfer
 c. Aircraft hijacking for annihilation and destruction
 d. Direct action against aircraft from outside
 e. Direct action against aviation related infrastructure
 Out of the five, following three categories can be singled out as ones related to aviation terrorism that bear a direct impact on national security. 
a. Aircraft hijacking for annihilation and destruction;
b. Direct action against aircraft from outside;
c. Direct action against aviation related infrastructure
a. Aircraft hijacking for annihilation/destruction; using aircraft as a weapon to hit a previously selected target.
b. Direct action against aircraft from outside; both airliners and passengers with crew on board are targets of this category of attack.
c. Direct action against civil aviation ground infrastructure;tThe target of this category of terrorist attacks is the supporting ground infrastructure of civil aviation. 
Now we will look at the impact of aviation terrorism in Sri Lanka 


 Presently, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world. Its citizens enjoy the benefits of peace after the end of war in 2009 and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. 

 The first incident related to aviation security, relevant to Sri Lanka, dates back to 30 June 1982 when a Sri Lankan citizen singlehandedly hijacked an Alitalia Boeing 747 with 340 passengers and gained international publicity. 

However, the proper taste of aviation terrorism was felt by Sri Lanka in 1986 in the hands of the LTTE.

 LTTE detonated a bomb in Air Lanka Flight 512 at Bandaranaike International Airport, which was about to depart to Male. Tristar carried mainly French, German, British and Japanese tourists; 21 people were killed on the aircraft, and 41 people were injured.

This attack was a huge blow to the economy of Sri Lanka. It had an  impact in terms of trade and travel. Both exports and imports declined  sharply while tourism was badly affected.

In the subsequent time period threat to aviation and aviation  infrastructure in Sri Lanka started to emanate from small suicide  aircraft flown by terrorists, which had a devastating impact not only on  security but in terms of economy and most importantly social and moral  fibre of the country.

 Subsequent to three  decades of brutal war, at a time when Sri Lanka is striving to be an  aviation hub in Asia, it is imperative to implement protective measures  to defend the nation from evolving aviation terrorism threats and ensure national security. 
 There is a need to consider current dynamics and future trends of aviation terrorism.


 A clear paradigm shift is visible in modern day aviation terrorism. A threat that arose with limited objectives of various groups has now developed to a full blown national security threat. 

 Present-day aviation terrorism has become an effective tool and a tactic in contemporary asymmetric warfare. It is making a direct impact on a nation’s military, economic, financial, and cultural-civilisation. 

 The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 marked the start of a new period in modern history. This is the emergence of terrorism as a truly global threat.
 Following are a few methods that may be adopted by terrorists in the future to threaten national security

 a. Use of small aircraft to attack civilian airlines and aviation infrastructure
 b. Use of drone strikes on aviation and civil assets
 c. Cyber and IT warfare against aviation governing related networks
 d. Deploying in controlling centres and carrying out sabotage activities.
 e. A collaboration of all of the above to achieve maximum destruction

Protecting aviation assets, demands a high level of vigilance because a single lapse in aviation security can result in hundreds of deaths, destroy equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and have immeasurable negative impacts on the economy and the public’s opinion on the air travel.

Way Forward 

 Aviation terrorism is definitely a national security threat and its dynamics deems a holistic and cohesive approach to counter. It should consist of both local and international counter measures and legal instruments. 

 Accordingly, following are few of the measure that should be taken in the Sri Lankan context.
 1. Priority should be given to timely collection, exploitation and dissemination of intelligence amongst relevant agencies.
 2. Conduct of exercises on individual joint plans related of aviation security among relevant agencies.
 3. Enforcing ICAO counter terrorism related conventions and protocols with respect to aviation security, in an efficient and effective manner.
 4. The establishment of collaboration between regional and international agencies related to Aviation Security.


In conclusion it is to be noted that, despite heightened safety measures at airports and the introduction of appropriate technologies, the use of aviation terrorism does not diminish, but rather increases. 

 It is evident that modern terrorism doctrine is formulated to economically cripple a country and compel it to accept their ideology. Accordingly, terrorists’ modus operandi is to target potential economic installations. Civil aviation infrastructure in a country is one of the most vital economic installations. Therefore, counter measures for aviation terrorism has become a vital factor in any national security.”
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