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Secretary Waidyaratne delivers keynote address at 'Colombo Air Symposium'

Secretary Waidyaratne delivers keynote address at 'Colombo Air Symposium'

[October 12 2017]


Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Mr. Kapila Waidyaratne PC made the keynote address at the inaugural session of the 3rd 'Colombo Air Symposium', held at the Eagles' Lakeside Banquet and Convention Hall in Attidiya, today (12th Thursday, October). The State Minister of Defence Hon. Ruwan Wijewardene was the Chief Guest of the inaugural session held this morning.

Making the keynote address Secretary Waidyaratne said that, asymmetric warfare and more generally the violent attacks in recent times in whose backdrop that this forum is being held puts greater emphasis on the theme of the air symposium. While expressing his sympathy over the Las Vegas shooting he said that the nature in which the attack was orchestrated has become a warning in how unconventional actors could engage in such acts as to destabilise societies by being viable asymmetric opponents to the established system and law and order.

He said that, national defence is inalienable and is a matter to which nations are very attentive to. Though the Indian Ocean has managed to minimize the threats we faced it is important to recall that the multiplicity of threats that came our way also emanated over these waters. The rise of Sri Lanka as a strategic partner for many international actors is inevitable with the host of strategic assets present in the island whose protection is needed now more so than ever. It is due to such reasons that our armed forces, including the Air Force continuously seek knowledge on new world threats and the preservation of peace in the region through such forums.

The evolution of battlegrounds in the recent past has transformed conflicts from land, sea and air to the cyber and space spheres. The proliferation of cyber weapons and rapid growth of autonomous weapon systems is another cause for concern and these relatively new fields of warfare are yet to be defined under a legal framework. Organs such as the UN along with its member states should strive for the regulation of such advancements through international law, he opined.

Further speaking he said that, nations are racing to develop their cyber and space capabilities furthering their national interests in an increasingly competitive global setting. In such a context, Sri Lanka must find its footing whilst ensuring that its interests and survival go hand in hand with the greater global peace.

He mentioned that, unconventional forces depend on asymmetric approaches that target the military's weaknesses and undercut their advantages. Traditional powers also seek asymmetric capabilities through the use of non-state actors, thus adding complexities to non-traditional warfare. As a victim of such strategies Sri Lanka is aware of the dynamics of asymmetric warfare.

Drawing country's own experience the Secretary said that, during the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE was able to leverage their vulnerabilities by using strategies pertaining to asymmetric warfare. Such groups engage in violent, lethal activities with far less risk of being overwhelmed by reprisals that a nation-state might face. Asymmetric threats should be therefore, understood as a strategy, by which the inferior actor exploit asymmetric strategy to gain superiority.

Law has become a flexible strategic partner for both the military and for humanitarians seeking to restrain the violence. The relationship between modern war and law is made complex by today's asymmetric conflicts and by the loss of a shared vision about what the law means and how it should be applied. This sadly leads to selective or disproportionate application of law to some parties to a conflict. Thus the unconventional adversaries tend to take best advantages of these circumstances, he highlighted.

Drawing attention to social media he said, social media provides a hospitable environment for the dissemination of propaganda and disinformation and the manipulation of our perceptions and beliefs. Due to the potential effects social media activities can cause with little cost or effort, it has become an essential tool for war fighting used by both states and non-state actors.

Advancements in communication have made methods used to shape the opinions of populations becoming sophisticated. It is noticeable in this regard that the LTTE's use of propaganda influenced terror outfits such as Al Qaeda and ISIS to use mainstream media and social media effectively for the dissemination of propaganda and disinformation, he further added.

He also said, asymmetric tactics too are spreading beyond traditional domains. Information technology increasingly underpins both military and economic strength. Low-cost, asymmetric threats have proven dangerous for military forces and security within a state. Such asymmetric threats require us not to become complacent with conventional military power.

It has not been a lack of understanding or of lessons learned about the many varied elements of asymmetrical warfare that has led to the lack of progress in effectively countering threats in recent years. Rather it has been the lack of a new, comprehensive strategic vision against what is essentially new and different type of armed conflict. There is also the issue of lack of adaptivity of organisational structures, the mind-set of policymakers and relevant actors which has hampered the countering of such threats, he added.

He underscored the need to stay abreast of the latest developments especially in the field of technology. Air assets remain a prime choice when responding to security threats. Sri Lanka was once lagging behind her regional peers in research and development and innovativeness in both military and civilian technological developments. This is soon expected to change with the initiation of forums as this to gather required knowledge to make us a regional leader in air capabilities and innovativeness.

He revealed that, the present threats and the geostrategic importance of Sri Lanka has called for the establishment of a Naval Air Force Wing to secure our waters with greater surveillance and striking capabilities. It is with this vision that the Sri Lankan armed forces have been supplied with a number of naval crafts with HLF facilities. It is also under the same rationale that a Joint Naval Command with the Air Force has been recommended along with a Joint Communications Network that would seek to build air and maritime capabilities.

He said that, Research and Development has become a priority for the Sri Lankan Air Force and emphasised that partnerships made in forums such as this with our international partners would be beneficial.

Presently, air power is not confined to a restricted military arm. This poses many advantages as well as many challenges. Thus making the theme of this year's symposium "Air power in addressing asymmetric threats" more relevant and apt to be deliberated so that we can forge ahead together with a common understanding, he said.

He stated that stimulating economic growth is of key essence and the future lies in a knowledge based economy. Air power - both military and civil - can be a stimulus and a catalyst for our growth. I see forums such as the 'Colombo Air Symposium' as vital platforms where proactive approaches can be hatched, bringing us to a stronger point as one unique region.

Before concluding his speech, the Secretary made it point to remember the sacrifices made by the valiant Air Force Officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the motherland, and said "We live in a peaceful country today and can be proud to claim being the only nation, whose military took on a powerful, ruthless, unconventional foe and defeated it, whilst showing maithree or compassion to the surviving cadres who live amongst us today as rehabilitated, law abiding civilians of one nation".

The 'Colombo Air Symposium' is attended by a number of participants including 24 delegates from 17 countries. The two-day conclave will see 12 local and foreign speakers sharing their knowledge on thematic topics during six sessions.

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