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Sri Lanka

The Army

The Sri Lankan Army is the oldest and largest of the nation's three armed services. It was established as the Royal Ceylon Army in 1949, and was renamed when Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972. The commander of the army exercises direct operational control over the force. In early 1988, the government announced a major reorganization of the army, creating several high-level posts to accommodate the new structure. Under this revised chain of command, the commander of the army (upgraded from lieutenant general to general) will be assisted by a deputy commander (a lieutenant general) and a chief of staff (a major general). Apart from the Colombo District, which will be under the direct authority of Army Headquarters, the island will be divided into two area commands and twenty-one sectors. Each area command is scheduled to have 12,000 troops under the authority of a major general, with a brigadier as chief of staff. When the reorganization is completed, each sector will have a full battalion of troops dedicated to its defense.

Like the Indian Army, the Sri Lankan Army has largely retained the British-style regimental system that it inherited upon independence. The individual regiments (such as the Sri Lanka Light Infantry and the Sinha Regiment) operated independently and recruited their own members. Officers tended to remain in a single battalion throughout their careers. The infantry battalion, the basic unit of organization in field operations, included five companies of four platoons each. Incomplete reports suggest that a typical platoon had three squads (sections) of ten personnel each. In addition to the basic infantry forces, a commando regiment was established in 1986. Support for the infantry was provided by two reconnaissance regiments (one regular, one reserve), two field artillery regiments (one regular, one reserve), one antiaircraft regiment, one field engineering regiment, one engineering plant regiment, one signals battalion, a medical corps, and a variety of logistics units.

In late 1987, the army had a total estimated strength of up to 40,000 troops, about evenly divided between regular army personnel and reservists on active duty. The approximately 20,000 regular army troops represented a significant increase over the 1983 strength of only 12,000. Aggressive recruitment campaigns following the 1983 riots raised this number to 16,000 by early 1985.

After the 1971 uprising, the army expanded its range of weapons from the original stock of World War II-era British Lee Enfield rifles and 4.2-inch heavy mortars. New sources of weaponry in the mid-to-late 1970s included the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and China, countries with which the left-leaning Bandaranaike government had the closest ties. China continued to be an important source into the 1980s, and was joined by Australia, Italy, South Africa, Israel,and the United States. New equipment included 85mm field guns, light trucks, and armored personnel carriers. Chinese copies of Soviet small arms were the basic weapons used by the infantry. Of particular note were the Type 56 semiautomatic rifle (based on the Soviet AK), the Type 69 rocket launcher (like the Soviet RPG-7), and the Type 56 light machine gun, a copy of the Soviet 7.62mm RPD.

Despite the rapid acquisition of trucks and armored personnel carriers, individual units of the army had no transportation capability of their own, and most patrols were carried out on foot. Helicopters were available only for special operations, and most troop transport was by ordinary buses or minibuses. This situation frequently left troops vulnerable to mines, and many of the army's casualties occurred in this fashion, rather than in face-to-face combat with the insurgents. Because of the small geographical area within which the forces were deployed, long supply lines were not necessary, and individual units frequently made their own decisions about what rations to carry on a given operation.

Most training is provided at the Army Training Centre in Diyatalawa, Badulla District, Uva Province. The center encompasses three separate facilities: the Sri Lankan Military Academy, the Non-Commissioned Officers' School, and the Recruit Training School. The Military Academy was founded in 1981 and absorbed the earlier Officers' Cadet School and the Officers' Study Center. In the late 1980s, it was providing training in tactics and administration, and its graduates were commissioned as officers in the regular forces. The officer cadets' course lasted ninety weeks and prepared cadets to serve as platoon commanders. It included military and academic subjects as well as physical training, and placed a special emphasis on fostering leadership qualities and an understanding of the role of the officer as a servant of the state. Because of an extreme shortage of officers at the lower levels, a short commission course was developed to speed the training process. Cadets in this course received fifty-six weeks of training and committed themselves to five years of service with the option of continuing their careers in the military. The Army Training Centre handled approximately 300 recruits at a time and, in 1982, reportedly trained 18 officers. Additional training is provided by individual field units.

Cadet training was offered at the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy established in 1981 in Ratmalana, fourteen kilometers south of Colombo. (The academy was named after the nation's third prime minister.) Each year, the academy admits fifty cadets (ages seventeen to nineteen) for a three-year program of academic work and basic training. Graduates continue their studies at a regular university before taking up a full-time career in the military services.

With the limited capacity of indigenous training facilities, the armed forces have relied extensively on foreign military training. The British played a central role in the early years following independence and have continued to be an important source of military expertise. Other sources have included Pakistan, Australia, Malaysia, and the United States. In addition, in an agreement reached in 1984, Israeli security personnel (reportedly from Shin Bet, the Israeli counterespionage and internal security organization) went to Sri Lanka to train army officers in counterinsurgency techniques (see Foreign Military Relations , this ch.).

Data as of October 1988

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