Homebrew Air Force in Sri Lanka

The Tamil Tiger rebel group in Sri Lanka appears to have invented the world’s first guerrilla air force:

A Tamil Tiger light aircraft bombed a Sri Lankan air force base next to Colombo international airport before dawn on Monday, killing three airmen and wounding 16 in the first such air strike by the rebel group.

Wired’s excellent defense-technology blog Danger Room summarizes why this is an important development:

According to Jane’s, this represents the first use of conventional air power by a “non-state armed group.” Global Guerrillas claims that the rebels’ half-dozen aircraft — at least one of which is a Czech-made Z-143 two-seater trainer — were built from smuggled kits. Jane’s official stance is that the modest rebel air force’s potential for traditional missions is limited. But Reuters quotes one Jane’s analyst saying otherwise:

“This air attack appears to have taken the air force by complete surprise, and this is confirmed by the delayed response, by which time the attackers have been able to return to base,” said Iqbal Athas of Jane’s Defence Weekly… “It is a significant threat for a number of reasons. What they did, although they may have failed to achieve their target, is to demonstrate that they have such a capability,” Athas said. “The larger offshore patrol vessels of the navy can become vulnerable, troop transport ships can become vulnerable and so can armed groups leading an offensive on the ground.”

The use of kit aircraft for military purposes just illustrates how far the amount of money required to field an armed force has fallen these days. You can buy a ready-to-assemble kit aircraft for $100,000 or less — even lower if you go to the “light sport aircraft” category.  They can’t carry much of a payload, and they certainly wouldn’t stand up in a fight against “real” fighters, but they’re probably sufficient to chuck a few bombs around, or for aerial recon — and as the Tamils have demonstrated, they can potentially surprise the enemy just by appearing over the battlefield, which helps too.