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From parade ground to the battle front...

Armed forces, 59 years since independence

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 world.

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 terrorist group.

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 Navy.

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 Operation Riviresa.

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 Tigers.

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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