Rear Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe took over as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy with effect from July 15, 2009 .
New Navy Commander, Thishara Samarasinghe, a great sportsman in his day, gave some of his valuable time to answer questions put forth to him . He shared some of the fresh ideas that he would introduce to the Navy during his tenure.
Q: You have set some records, which have yet to be bettered, like topping your batch at Dartmouth. You were also a formidable sportsman at Royal. Can you tell us something about those achievements?
A: I wish to be humble in answering this question as it describes my past. I was the first to go to Dartmouth having won the Sword of Honour being Best Cadet of the 04th Intake at the Naval & Maritime Academy after 16 years, as previous SLN officers as a batch went to Dartmouth in 1959. I passed out as the best International Midshipman with a first class pass competing with approximate 40 foreigners from many Navies. The record is that I was appointed as Divisional Sub Lieutenant (under trainee officer to be in charge of all under trainees) in the Hawke Division in the first half of the term. This record is yet to be achieved by any foreigner in the Dartmouth history.
At Royal, my biggest achievement was when I was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd Battalion of the Sri Lanka Cadet Corp in 1973. I also played 1st XI Cricket(1972 under Asitha Jayaweera, 1973 under Ajitha Pasqual and in 1974 under Samuel Lawton)and Captained the 2nd XI Cricket team. I was also awarded athletic colours in 1972 and was Vice Captain in addition to being a Senior Prefect and Junior Scout Leader of 42nd Colombo. I was also the Chairman for Navy Cricket, Athletics and Rugby. The year that I was Chairman in 1989 was the Best Year of Navy Rugby where the Navy Team played in the Clifford Cup final, including being B division champions. I was also the President of the National Rifle Association for the 10th SAARC games in 2006 and inaugurated the new firing range at Welisara.
Q: There have been disparaging remarks in certain circles in the aftermath of crushing the LTTE that all top posts in the Forces will go to schools like Ananda and Nalanda in the foreseeable future, and people like you will have to retire without climbing to the top post, even though fully deserving the job. But now those fears have been proved wrong. Were you about to retire?
A: There was no such school connection considered when selecting personnel to high posts. Personal track record, career achievements, and above all, character, conduct and experience in the battle front will always be the criteria for the top posts. In this regard I wish to express my respect to H.E. for the opportunity given and Secretary of Defence for recommending me.
Q: What fresh ideas will you introduce to the Navy during your tenure?
A: Improvement of a sustainable fleet along with required infrastructure for at least the next 30 years is my prime concern. Also, total control of fishing activity on the coastal line specially emphasising on the Northwest, North and Northeast to ensure fishing activity is not exploited by undesirables. My prime role here is to protect our fishermen so that they can flourish and support the country’s economy.
Having four platforms with helicopter pads, a seaborne helicopter facility is always an added advantage of maritime surveillance, subject to financial constraints. Exploring the possibility of such a facility with direct help of the Sri Lanka Air Force, will be considered although it is not the need of the hour.
Long range surveillance from the coastal radar and maritime long range air surveillance coordinating with Sri Lanka Air Force is a necessity. SLN has already established long range radar in certain coastal sectors. Protection of harbours is of paramount important to protect maritime trade and support the economy. Any other assistance to the government in the field of maritime potential needs to be pursued. Emphasising on efficient performance, quality training, uncompromising honesty and integrity, prevention of waste and corruption will also be a priority. Last but not least, men matter most. The welfare of every serving person and those families of Naval personnel who made the supreme sacrifice will be thus foremost in my mind.
Q: Now that the proposed new Coast Guard Department will take over much of the coastal security, how will you keep your men fully occupied?
A: The formation of coastguards is in a very formative stage, and it will take sometime to inaugurate and establish this unit. When established, duties at sea will be shared under a single command in close coordination with Director General Coastguard.
Q: With threat levels diminishing after the crushing of the LTTE, will it be a slimmer, but more modern Navy that you will hope to build from now on?
A: A more a modern Navy by way of vessels for surveillance and deterrence will be a consideration that is subject to financial constraints.
Q: The Air Force will take to commercial operations like Heli-tours. Will the Navy too get involved in similar tourism related or any other ventures?
A: Yes, the Jetliner passenger vessel is a potential tourist attraction for voyages between Ports of Sri Lanka as well as in India.
Q: There have been recent reports that the Navy will acquire the latest range of Israeli Dvora fast attack craft. You having commanded the very first Dvora that Sri Lanka acquired in the 80s, can you tell our readers something more about this craft and other modernising programmes for the Navy.
A: Fast Attack Craft popularly known as Dvora was the biting tooth of the LTTE Sea Tiger Boats. Her speed manoeuvreability and weapon outfit were critical ingredients. Similar craft are being ordered from Israel to replace some of the ageing craft which are almost 25-years-old. Such FACs were also built by Colombo Dockyard Limited.
Q: The Navy has been turning out some of its requirements like armoured cars and even some craft. Can you tell us about the future of its own self reliance drive?
A: Yes, the critical role played by our boat building facility met the high demand of Small Boat Concept, which was very effective in the final stage of operations against the LTTE at sea. The facility not only produced boats at regular intervals, but it saved a lot of foreign exchange to the country. The situation is similar in building armed vehicles. Building larger petrol craft with local and foreign collaboration is also a possibility. This will help to improve the capabilities of our naval technical personnel as well as develop our indigenous naval industry.