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Armed Forces


Royal Bhutan Army camp at Tashi Makhang, Punakha District
Courtesy Bhutan Travel, Inc., New York (Marie Brown)

The Royal Bhutan Army was organized as a regular military force in the 1950s with the encouragement of India and in response to China's takeover of Tibet. Following the establishment of a national militia in 1958, the government announced a new conscription system the same year and plans for a standing army of 2,500 troops with modern equipment. Military training was given to all able-bodied men, and by 1963 the standing army was well established. A reorganization in 1968 led several years later to an increase in the army to 4,850 troops and a campaign aimed at recruiting 600 additional troops per year. In 1990 the Royal Bhutan Army was composed of 6,000 men and was backed by a growing militia. Two women were recruited for the army's airport security unit in 1989, but no other women soldiers have been noted.

The army's primary mission was border defense, but it also has assisted the Royal Bhutan Police in performing internal security duties (see Police Force , this ch.). The army also provided security at the Paro airport and regulated the sale, ownership, and licensing of civilian-owned firearms. For ceremonial occasions, the army had a band, some members of which were trained in India.

The army's supreme commander in 1991 was the Druk Gyalpo; dayto -day operations were under the charge of the chief operations officer. The chief operations officer held the rank of colonel until 1981, when the position was upgraded to major general (see table 33, Appendix). In 1991 the chief operations officer was Major General Lam Dorji. Organizationally, the army headquarters ranked at the ministry level and was immediately subordinate to the Council of Ministers.

As of 1978, the Royal Bhutan Army consisted of its headquarters in Thimphu, a training center at Tenchholing, four operational wings, and an airport security unit at Paro. Wing 1 had its headquarters in Changjukha (Geylegphug), Wing 2 at Damthang, Wing 3 at Goinichawa, and Wing 4 at Yonphula. Organized into companies, platoons, and sections, the troops were assigned to the wings deployed primarily in border areas. The army also operated hospitals in Lungtenphug, Wangdiphodrang, and Yonphula.

Most if not all of the army's weapons in the 1980s were manufactured in India. Rifles, bayonets, machine guns, and 81mm mortars have been noted in the army's weapons inventory, but some were believed to be obsolescent. Figures on defense expenditures were not publicly available and, in budgetary information published by the Planning Commission, were found only in general government costs.

The army has traditionally been a small, lightly armed conscript force. The majority of its officers and noncommissioned officers were trained by IMTRAT, which was commanded by an Indian Army brigadier at the Wangchuck Lo Dzong Military Training School, established in 1961 in Ha District. Recruits were trained at the Army Training Centre established in 1957 at Tenchholing in Wangdiphodrang District. IMTRAT also offered a one-to-two-month precourse for officers and enlisted personnel selected for advanced training in India. Royal Bhutan Army cadets were sent to the National Defence Academy at Pune, followed by training at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, from which they were commissioned as second lieutenants. It was reported in 1990 that members of the Royal Body Guards (an elite VIP protection unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel) had completed counterinsurgency and jungle warfare training in the Mizo Hills in India, the Indian College of Combat, and the Indian Military Academy.

The army conducted an annual recruitment drive. Families with two or more sons were expected to have one son serve in the army. Individuals between sixteen and twenty-four years of age, having a minimum height of 150 centimeters and minimum weight of fifty-two kilograms, were eligible for recruitment. Selected from among volunteers and conscripts, recruits were given ten to twelve months of basic training that included weapons proficiency, "field craft," signals, map reading, tae kwon do, and physical fitness. Soldiers also were expected to achieve proficiency in Dzongkha, Nepali, and English. Annual salaries started at Nu300 plus food, clothing, and accommodations.

Since the 1970s, one of the army's goals has been selfsufficiency . The Army Welfare Committee was established in 1978 to oversee the Army Welfare Project, which provided housing, food, and income for the Royal Bhutan Army and the Royal Body Guards. It was charged with taking care of individual army personnel problems and providing pensions to retirees. Although some labor for the Army Welfare Project was provided by army personnel, the project was administered by civil service employees and contractors. By 1979 a pilot project, the Lapchekha Agriculture Farm in Wangdiphodrang District, had been established to provide food for army units in western Bhutan. The farm comprised 525 hectares with a potential for an additional 113 hectares of arable land. Army personnel constructed a twenty-one-kilometer-long canal to irrigate the farm and worked there for three months each year. Revenues from the farm and other welfare projects helped provide benefits to retired and disabled personnel in the form of pensions and loans and, in the case of landless retirees, agricultural land grants. Army careerists could retire, depending on their rank, between the ages of thirty-seven and forty-five years of age. Preretirement training in farming was provided to army personnel. All retirees received pensions, and those disabled during service received both a pension and free medical care. In 1985 the Army Welfare Project generated Nu40 million in sales of farm services and products, which ranged from such practical civil activities as fence electrification to protect sugarcane farms from wild elephants in Geylegphug District to entrepreneurial endeavors, such as the manufacture and sale of rum to the Indian Army and Indian Air Force.

Data as of September 1991

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