by Ranga Jayasuriya
The Sri Lankan armed forces which grew from a ceremonial force at the
time of independence in 1948 to a highly trained and motivated Armed
Force, which now fights the most deadliest and ruthless terror group in
The role of the military in the post independent Sri Lanka was the
defensive one due to the nature of the strategic threats to the country.
In the short-term, internal security was considered the main threat to
the nation's future. In the long-term, the threat was seen as primarily
external from current and future superpowers in their rival quests for
dominance of the Indian Ocean.
The rank and file of former Ceylonese Army and the Navy took part in
various missions for the British Empire.
But, for the first three decades of its independence, the armed
forces of the newly independent island nation remained a ceremonial
force. Rescue and relief missions due to natural calamities and the
short lived JVP insurgency which broke their routine.
But, it was with the break-out of the separatist insurgency in the
North, that the armed forces swung in to action.
In the last two decades of 20th century, the rank and file in the
armed forces multiplied. Army which had just a few thousand soldiers
expanded in to a force of 120,000 personnel with dozens of specialized
brigades and regiments.
Sri Lankan Navy grew in to a Blue water Navy. The Sri Lankan Naval
force is itself a unique force, which fights the deadliest sea borne
The Air Force, the youngest member was set up on March, 2, 1951 under
the Bill No. 41 of 1949. Its fleet increased with the eruption of the
separatist war. So did its attack capabilities with the induction of
Russian MIG 27, Chinese F 7, Israeli built Kfir fighter jets, Mi35 and
Mi24 attack helicopters in the 90s.
The catalyst of the transformation of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces is
the separatist insurgency. The demand for further resources and the
manpower to fight terrorism saw a rapid expansion with a heavy burden on
the defence budget.
The need for further sophistication in weapon systems were felt as
the Tigers looked for alternative weaponry as means to counter the
military superiority of the Sri Lankan forces - and went on a shopping
spree at the underground arms market.
To counter this, the military saw the induction of superior and
equally destructive weapon systems such as Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers
and expansion of fleet of armoured tanks and armed personnel careers (APC).
The South African made APC, the Buffel, was, first, put into service
to cushion the effects caused by land mines. Later the Army developed
its own Unicorns to a level so that they too matched the capabilities of
the South African product. The UNICORN was assembled by the Sri Lanka
Electrical & Mechanical Engineers.
Navy which was once assigned to check smuggling of commercial goodies
from Tamil Nadu and block the entry of illegal Indian immigrants, is at
present, the only Naval force in the region which is fighting a war.
The years of experience in fighting the Sea Tigers, known for the
largest number of seaborne suicide missions has made the Sri Lankan
Navy, a force with a trove of experience.
The fleet gradually expanded since the eighties and with the purchase
of Offshore Patrol Vessel Sayura and Samudura, it became a Blue water
Among the other vessels in the Navy's fleet are: Fast Missile Vessels
(FMV)-SLNS Nandimitra and SLNS Suranimala, Fast Gun Boats (FGB)-
Ranarisi, Weeraya,Ranakamiya,EditharaII and Jagatha.
The fleet of Dvora Fast Attack Craft, which make the backbone of the
Navy's fleet was increased and its weapon systems are expected to
undergo improvement soon.
The security forces undertook many a operation against the LTTE.
Operation Liberation (1987) was the first major operation conducted by
the security forces. Since then, a number of major military operations
were launched against the Tigers. Operation Rivirasa eventually led to
the capture of Jaffna, the stronghold of the LTTE.
The most prestigious decoration in the armed forces is Parama Weera
Vibhushanaya (PWV) is awarded to soldiers, sailors and airmen who have
shown individual gallantry in the face of danger and who risk their own
lives to save the lives of their comrades.
The armed forces especially the Army, awards special awards to
soldiers who had taken part in very high risk operations such as
China continues to be an important source of arms supply to the
government, apart from Israel and Pakistan. Fifty nine years since
Independence, Sri Lankan Forces have developed a force of its own.
Its expertise in counter-terrorist warfare and suicide terrorism is
much sought after many other nations. Its specialised commando and
special forces regiments are a force of superior motivation to be
reckoned with. Sri Lankan Forces fought many a battle against the
They have their successes and failures. Fighting in the thick jungles
and urban battles, they paid with lives and limb. Why? Because, they
loved the soil and the map of Sri Lanka.
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