There are three branches of the all-volunteer national armed forces: the army, the navy, and the air force. In the first few decades after independence, Sri Lanka's military was largely ceremonial but was forced to dive into the trenches first with bloody conflicts with leftists in the 1970s and 80s and then a full-scale civil war in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s against the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE). [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Military and security forces of Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Army (includes National Guard and the Volunteer Force), Sri Lanka Navy (includes Marine Corps), Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Coast Guard; Civil Security Department (Home Guard); Sri Lanka National Police: Special Task Force (counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency) (2019) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Military expenditures: 1.9 percent of GDP (2019); 1.9 percent of GDP (2018); 2.1 percent of GDP (2017); 2.1 percent of GDP (2016); 2.6 percent of GDP (2015). Sri Lanka ranks 56th in military spending compared with other countries in the world. Defense spending is 5.62 percent in Israel, 3.2 percent in the United States and 0.4 percent in Ghana. = Military spending in Sri Lanka was much higher during the 1983-2009 civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Between 1990 and 1995, defense spending made up the largest portion of the national budget, accounting for over 20 percent of annual expenditures. It is much less than that now.

Military and security service personnel strengths: the Sri Lankan military has approximately 250,000 total personnel (180,000 Army; 40,000 Navy; 30,000 Air Force); 2019 estimate. =

Military equipment: the Sri Lankan military inventory consists mostly of Chinese and Russian-origin equipment, as well as smaller amounts from Israel, the UK, and the US; since 2000, China, India, Israel, and the US have been the leading suppliers of arms to Sri Lanka (2019 estimate). = The Sri Lankan military possesses MiG-27 jets, Kfir jets and multiple rocket launchers purchased from Israel, the Czech Republic, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics. The Sri Lankan navy is outfitted with Israeli-built Dvora fast attack craft. There are lots of land mines especially in the former Tamil Tiger territory. Local people have been removing them themselves.

Military deployments in other countries: 110 Central African Republic (MINUSCA); 150 Lebanon (UNIFIL); 240 Mali (MINUSMA); 170 South Sudan (UNMISS) (March 2020). =

Armed forces personnel (percentage of total labor force): 3.6 percent (compared to 9 percent in North Korea and .8 percent in the United States). [Source: World Bank ]

Number of people in the military: Active military: 225,000; Reserve military: 5,500; Paramilitary: 92,600; Total: 353, 100 Per 1,000 capita: 15.6; (total): Per 1,000 capita (active): 11.3. The number of active military members is 74,200 in Argentina, 1,358,193 in the United States, 0 in Costa Rica, and 2,035,000 in China.. [Source: Wikipedia Wikipedia ]

Main battle tanks: 62; Aircraft carriers: 0; AWS: 1; Cruisers: 0; Destroyers: 0; Frigates: 1; Corvettes: 0; Nuclear submarines: 0; Non-nuclear Submarines: 0; Military aircraft: 13; Attack helicopters: 11; Nuclear weapons: 0; Military satellites: 0. [Source: Wikipedia]

Military service age and obligation: 18-22 years of age for voluntary military service; no conscription (2019)

Structure and Administration of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

The armed forces consist of the Sri Lankan Army, Navy, and Air Force. As stipulated in the 1978 Constitution, the president of Sri Lanka is the commander in chief of the armed forces and has the sole authority to declare war and peace. Under the president, the formal chain of command includes the prime minister, the minister of defense, and the individual service commanders. In order to consolidate control over the armed forces, Jayewardene also assumed the portfolio of minister of defense when he took office in 1977. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The armed forces of Sri Lanka bear the clear imprint of the British institutions and traditions that shaped them. The army was initially formed as a volunteer force to supplement the British military presence in the late nineteenth century, and British leadership of Sri Lankan troops continued through World War II. Even after independence, Britain continued to play a major role in training, equipping, and symbolically leading of the Sri Lankan armed forces. *

In March 1984, the additional position of minister of internal security was created in response to the ethnic turmoil of the previous summer. Its incumbent was primarily responsible for the coordination of government efforts in the eradication of Tamil extremist violence and reported directly to the president. On the operational level, the government created a Joint Operations Command in 1985 to coordinate the anti-insurgent and antiterrorist activities of the army, navy, air force, and police. This council was chaired by the president and included, among others, the prime minister, the minister of internal security, the three service commanders, the inspector general of police, the director of the National Intelligence Bureau, and the general officer commanding joint operations. *

Army of Sri Lanka

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. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

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.*

Some men take jobs as soldiers because other jobs are scarce. As of 2001, more than 200,000 Sri Lankans, most of them Sinhalese, signed up to fight the Tamil Tigers. At that time five times more people were employed in the security sector than in tourism. Soldiers posted in Jaffna in the 2000s, earned $140 a month, about triple what a worker at a garment factory earned. If he was killed his family was paid his salary until his 55th birthday and after that they got a pension. Disabled soldiers and their families got similar benefits.

Weapons of the Sri Lankan Army

Many soldiers are armed with T-56 rifles, Chinese variants of the Soviet-designed AK-47 and AKM rifles. The Sri Lankan military has and multiple rocket launchers purchased from Israel, the Czech Republic, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics.

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.*

Army Training in Sri Lanka

Most training is provided at the Army Training Center 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 Center 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. Graduates of the Defense Academy ay Diyatalawa jump through hoops of fire during the graduation parade. *

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).*

Navy of Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Navy, originally established in December 1950 as the Royal Ceylon Navy, is the smallest of the nation's armed services. It consists of a regular and a volunteer force, each with its own reserve component. The navy is under the direct operational control of a service commander who is equal in authority to the army and air force commanders. The force is divided into three Naval Area Commands — Northern, Eastern, and Western — with a fourth (Southern Command) to be established at a later date. The navy maintains major bases in Colombo and Trincomalee, with secondary bases at Karainagar (Jaffna District), Welisara (Colombo District), Tangalla (Hambantota District), and Kalpitiya (Puttalam District). [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The navy's primary mission is to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling across the Palk Strait, the narrow body of water that separates the island from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. With the growth of the Tamil separatist movement in the late 1970s, the strait became a major conduit for armaments and insurgents traveling from training bases in south India, and the naval mission was therefore expanded to include counterinsurgency patrols.*

In the late 1980s, the navy had an approximate total strength of 4,000, including active reservists. By 1985 estimates, the regular force contained 243 officers and 3,072 ratings, and the Volunteer Naval Force had 64 officers and 427 men, a substantial increase over the 1977 figures (200 officers, 2,400 ratings).*

In late 1987, the navy had a fleet of approximately seventy vessels, more than half of them coastal patrol craft. Building on an original fleet of mostly British ships, the government took aggressive steps to expand its sources of supply and at the same time develop a domestic shipbuilding industry sufficient to meet national defense needs. As a result, the Colombo dockyards began production of the 40-ton Pradeepa coastal patrol craft in 1980, followed by the 330-ton Jayasagara large patrol craft. The original fleet of six Sooraya fast attack craft (the Chinese Shanghai-II, bought in 1972 and 1975) was supplemented in 1985 with six Israeli Super Dvora craft, and eight more were reportedly on order. One serious gap in the fleet was the lack of shallow-draft vessels suitable for surveying purposes. Palk Strait, although relatively narrow, is infamously difficult to navigate because of the large number of uncharted coral reefs.*

A cumbersome bureaucratic structure prevented the navy from fully carrying out the basic elements of its intended mission. Although the fleet inventory improved steadily, logistical support to naval vessels was a continuing problem that resulted in poor performance and low morale throughout the service. The matériel procurement process was reportedly complex and inefficient, and spare parts for foreign-made vessels were frequently in short supply. Even where the necessary parts were available, poorly trained maintenance personnel were not always able to repair breakdowns, and inadequate administrative support compounded the difficulties.*

Full maintenance facilities were available at the Colombo dockyard, where dry-dock equipment was expanded to allow construction of large patrol vessels in the 1980s. In addition, the base in Trincomalee was fitted out to perform slipway repairs. At both facilities, a shortage of qualified maintenance personnel continued to hamper effective repair work.*

General training for officers and ratings was being provided at the Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee in the 1980s. The academy was established in 1967, and offered a fifteen-month basic course in navigation, seamanship, and engineering. Seamen were given practical training on commercial cargo ships. For postgraduate technical training, recruits were sent overseas, mainly to India, Pakistan, Australia, the United States, and Britain.*

Air Force of Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Air Force is the youngest of the three armed services. Founded in 1951 as the Royal Ceylon Air Force, it relied totally on the British Royal Air Force for its earliest equipment, training, and leadership. The service was led by a force commander and its operational headquarters were located in Ratmalana, south of Colombo. The air force operates major air bases at Katunayaka in Colombo District and China Bay (Trincomalee), with a secondary base in Jaffna. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

In 1988 the air force was divided into four functionally defined squadrons, with a variety of support units: Number One (Flight Training School) Squadron, China Bay Air Base; Number Two (Transport) Squadron, Katunayaka Air Base; Number Three (Navigation) Squadron, China Bay Air Base; and Number Four (Helicopter) Squadron, Katunayaka Air Base. Support units included an electronic engineering division, an aeronautical division, and administrative, operations, medical, logistics, and procurement units. In addition, the force operated two antiaircraft gun battery sections and a small Air Force Security Force.*

In its early years, the air force was engaged primarily in immigration patrol, with occasional assistance in emergency relief. During the insurgency of 1971, the air force played a major role in restoring internal order; in addition to providing transport of ammunition, food, and troops, it participated in assaults against insurgent strongholds. Following the ethnic rioting of 1983, the air force was placed on permanent active status and participated in counterinsurgent activities in Northern Province. Because of a severe shortage of hard currency for military expenditures in the wake of the 1971 uprising, the Number Four (Helicopter) Squadron began operating commercial transportation services for foreign tourists under the name of Helitours. In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700 personnel, including active reserves. The force had grown gradually during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and recruits in the 1960s. Rapid growth began in the mid-1980s, when the ethnic disturbances drew the service into a major, long-term security role. Between 1983 and 1987, the force grew by nearly 50 percent.*

Under the auspices of the British Royal Air Force, flight training was first offered to Ceylon Air Force pilots at Katunayaka Air Base in 1952. In addition, a number of recruits received flight training at the Royal Air Force college in Cranwell, England. After the British withdrew from Sri Lankan military facilities in 1967, the Number One (Flight Training School) Squadron was established at the China Bay Air Base in Trincomalee. With the increase in insurgent activities in the mid-1980s, the air force stepped up its training activities, bringing in foreign pilots to assist in the helicopter training program.*

Officer training is provided at the Air Force Academy at the China Bay Air Base. The academy offers a two-year program of basic flight training and a variety of specialized courses. Air traffic controllers receive schooling at special facilities in Colombo, and weapons familiarity training is conducted in conjunction with the other services at the Army Training Center in Diyatalawa. In addition, approximately twenty-five officers a year receive advanced training abroad, most commonly in Britain and India.*

Air Force Aircraft of Sri Lanka in the 1980s

The air force had a fleet of approximately eighty aircraft, of which sixty-four were reported to be operational in early 1988. The earliest aircraft — small transport airplanes and trainers — were provided by the British and were supplemented in the late 1960s with United States Bell helicopters. During the 1971 insurgency, the left-leaning Bandaranaike government turned to the Soviet Union for more sophisticated weaponry, and received five MiG-17 F fighter bombers, a MiG-15UTI Midget trainer, and two Ka-26 helicopters. The British also assisted with five BAC Jet Provosts. By the early 1980s, the Provosts and all of the Soviet aircraft had been taken out of active service and were relegated to long-term storage, leaving the air force without any bomber capability. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

After the 1983 riots, the government worked rapidly to expand the inventory, relying largely on sources in Italy, Britain, and the United States. Because of tight budget constraints, the air force was compelled to refit a number of noncombat aircraft for military uses in counterinsurgency operations against Tamil separatists. Central in the government's security efforts were six SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 turboprop trainers which were used for rocket attacks and strafing. Additionally, the air force, with the help of Heli Orient of Singapore, equipped twelve Bell 212 and 412 helicopters to serve as gunships and as transport vehicles for commando assault operations. Government forces reportedly also used helicopters on "bombing" missions; frequently operating without conventional bombs, air force troops reportedly dropped hand grenades stuffed in wine glasses so that the lever would not be released until the glass shattered on the ground. A more effective bombing capability was provided by a small fleet of Chinese Yun-12 turboprop transport aircraft. These were equipped with bomb racks that had been fitted to carry up to 1,000 kilograms of fragmentation and antipersonnel bombs. Transport, training, and surveying functions were carried out by a variety of Cessna and DeHavilland aircraft.*

As in the other services, a shortage of spare parts plagued maintenance efforts, forcing the service to send a number of aircraft to Singapore and elsewhere for repairs. After the purchase of equipment from Canada in 1986, the air force gained the capability to make structural repairs on its fleet of Bell helicopters, several of which had been damaged in operations against the Tamil insurgents. Maintenance of electronic equipment was performed at the communications station at Ekala, in the north of Colombo District.*

Service in Sri Lankan Military

The regular forces of the army, navy, and airforce were recruited by voluntary enlistment. Despite the influence of Buddhist pacifist traditions, the prestige of government service and the possibility of a stable income have insured a sufficient flow of new recruits into the three services even prior to the establishment of a national draft in 1985. As a result of stringent Sinhala language requirements, noncommissioned (NCO) ranks of all services were virtually all Sinhalese. In the army, regular enlisted personnel were required to sign contracts that were renewable after the fifth and twelfth years of service. Renewal was contingent on the receipt of good performance ratings. After twenty-two years of service, individuals became eligible for pensions, and in the 1980s the average age of retirement for the enlisted ranks was forty-two. After completing regular service, recruits were required to fulfill seven years of obligatory service in the reserves. Officers were allowed to serve in each rank for a specified number of years, after which they had either to qualify for the next higher rank or retire. Because of the small number of positions available at the higher levels, most officers were forced to leave the service at about forty-five years of age. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Separate recruiting was conducted for the First Commando Regiment of the army. Applicants for NCO positions had to be single and between eighteen and twenty-two years old, and must have passed the Ordinary Levels of the General Common Entrance examination in six subjects. Candidates were offered the possibility of specialized training overseas in such fields as intelligence, parachuting, and dog handling. Within the navy, the small size of the total force enabled the leadership to remain highly selective in its recruitment, and naval personnel had a uniformly high literacy rate. Recruits committed themselves to ten years of obligatory service.*

After retiring from active service, officers and enlisted personnel reportedly had considerable difficulty finding suitable employment. Priority placement in civil service jobs, commonly offered under the British administration, was no longer available to military retirees in the 1980s, and former officers spoke out with bitterness on the failure of the nation to repay its soldiers for their years of service. In addition, military pensions reportedly have not kept pace with inflation.*

In October 1985, the Parliament passed the Mobilization and Supplementary Forces Act, which gave the government the power to draft citizens into the National Armed Reserve. Under this law, the prime minister, with the approval of Parliament, was authorized to conscript Sri Lankan citizens eighteen years or older for one year of basic training and a total of ten years of reserve service. Under normal conditions, reserves could be called into active service for up to twenty-one days per year. At the request of the president, however, reserves could be deployed in active service for an indefinite period of time in the event of a war or "in the prevention or suppression of any rebellion or insurrection or other civil disturbance."

Ethnic Composition of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

At independence the government inherited from the British a military establishment that was neither ethnically nor religiously representative of the population at large. Minorities, for example, were heavily overrepresented in the officer corps. Christians, who comprised about 8 percent of the population, accounted for about 50 percent of all officers. Ethnically, Tamils and Burghers, who together comprised less than 20 percent of the population, accounted for 40 percent of the officer corps. This unbalanced representation was the result of a number of deliberate policies and incidental developments under the British. As in India, the colonial government in Sri Lanka tended to favor certain minorities in the selection of both military and civil service posts. In addition, the greater willingness of the Tamils to attend Christian missionary schools gave them the advantage of knowing the language, faith, and value system of the colonial administration. These Christian schools were also more likely than their Buddhist counterparts to offer rigorous physical training; the student cadet corps that were common in the colonial tradition were anathema to the Buddhist pacifist orthodoxy. Finally, the largely Westernized Burgher population adapted more easily to the social and public values of a colonial force. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

In the first few years of independence, the high representation of Christians and minorities in the military leadership was fully in step with the political currents of the time; the governments of Don Stephen Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala were dominated by a Westernized elite that preached accommodation with all ethnic groups. Starting in the mid-1950s, however, a new Sinhalese and Buddhist nationalism turned increasingly against the British-sponsored elite of the colonial period. Within the government, this tendency was reflected in the victory of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the 1956 elections. In the military, however, changes were much more gradual; most of the commissions that had become available in the newly created services were already filled, and the relatively young army had few officers approaching retirement age. As a result, this period was marked by an increasing strain between the civil and the military authorities. The government's program of nationalization and its attempt to establish a privileged place for Buddhism and the Sinhala language caused increasing conflict around the island. In January 1962, several high-ranking military officers were arrested and accused of planning a coup d'état. They reportedly had planned to restore order by detaining a number of prominent left-wing politicians from the Bandaranaike coalition and returning the UNP to office. By the time the conspiracy was made public, the original plans had already been abandoned. Nonetheless, the Bandaranaike government used the potential threat to bolster its pro-Buddhist campaign, making political capital from the fact that all of the conspirators had been Christians.*

Despite the initial resistance from a number of military officers, the government succeeded gradually in recasting the armed forces in its own image. Recruitment at all levels became increasingly dominated by Sinhalese Buddhists, and by mid-1983 Tamils accounted for less than 5 percent of all military personnel. Military training that previously had been conducted in a variety of languages was now limited to Sinhala and English. Also, under the leadership of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the army was supplemented with the new Sinha Regiment, whose name and unprecedented lack of regimental colors stood in clear opposition to the British colonial regalia of the Ceylon Light Infantry. Even the Light Infantry took on a new Sinhalese cast when in 1961 it adopted an elephant named Kandula as its regimental mascot; as the Times of Ceylon was quick to point out, Kandula was the battle elephant of Dutthagamani (or Duttugemunu), the ancient Sinhalese king who was credited with driving the Tamils out of Sri Lanka in the second century B.C.*

The Sinhalization of the armed forces continued under the United National Party government of President Jayewardene. The retirement of the British-educated cadre of Tamil and Burgher officers gradually depleted the ranks of minority members. At the same time, the growing ethnic divisions in the country and the deployment of the armed forces against the Tamil population in the Northern Province tended to discourage young Tamil males from pursuing a career in the military. By 1985 almost all enlisted personnel in the armed services were Sinhalese. *

Women in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

The Sri Lankan Army Women's Corps was formed in 1980 as an unarmed, noncombatant support unit. Set up with the assistance of the British Women's Reserve Army Corps, it was identical in structure to its parent organization, and its first generation of officer cadets was trained in Britain. Candidates were required to be between eighteen and twenty years old and to have passed the lowest level of the General Common Entrance examinations. (Officer candidates must have passed the Advanced Level.) [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Enlistment entailed a five-year service commitment (the same as for men), and recruits were not allowed to marry during this period. In the sixteen-week training course at the Army Training Center at Diyatalawa, cadets were put through a program of drill and physical training similar to the men's program, with the exception of weapons and battlecraft training. Women recruits were paid according to the same scale as the men, but were limited to service in nursing, communications, and clerical work. In late 1987, the first class of women graduates from the Viyanini Army Training Center were certified to serve as army instructors. *

Women were first admitted into the navy in 1985. New recruits were given six weeks of training with the Sri Lankan Army Women's Corps. Although they were trained in the use of weapons, they were not assigned to combat positions or shipboard duty. Instead, they assisted in nursing, communications, stores, and secretarial work.*

Awards in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces

In the period between independence and the establishment of the republic, members of the Sri Lankan armed services were eligible for awards from the British government, including the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) and the Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.). After 1972 however, the nation established its own system of decorations, which was modified in 1979 to conform more closely with the practices of other South Asian nations. Under the system in place in 1988, the nation's highest decoration was the Parama Veera Vibushanaya, equivalent to the Victoria Cross of Britain and the Param Vir Chakra of India, and awarded "for individual acts of gallantry of the most exceptional order." For acts of bravery performed outside a military context, individuals were awarded the Veerodhara Vibushanaya, a decoration equivalent to the British George Cross and the Indian Asoka Chakra. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Other awards include the Visiatha Seva Vibushanaya for twenty years of service with an "unblemished record of moral and military conduct;" the Uttama Seva Padakkama, equivalent to India's Meritorious Service Medal, and given to a soldier with not fewer than fifteen years of service marked by exceptional ability and exemplary conduct; the Videsha Seva Padakkama, for active service in a foreign military mission; and the Veera Vickrama Vibushanaya, equivalent to the Military Cross of Britain, and given for acts of gallantry in saving the lives of others.*

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Military Relations

Sri Lanka's oldest and most enduring military relationship has been with Britain. As a British colony, the island was garrisoned with British troops and, following independence, its own indigenous armed forces were organized, trained, armed, and led by British military personnel. Under a mutual defense arrangement dating from 1947, the two nations have agreed to give each other "such military assistance for the security of their territories for defense against external aggression and for the protection of essential communications as it may be in their mutual interests to provide." The vague wording of this treaty has allowed it to survive a number of political swings in Sri Lanka's domestic arena, and it remained in force in 1988. Even after the government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike withdrew island base rights from British forces in 1957, the British continued to be a major supplier of military hardware. Although the British government has denied any direct involvement, for a time former British Special Air Service personnel under the auspices of the private firm of Keeny Meeny Services were instrumental in training Sri Lankan troops in counterterrorist and counterinsurgency techniques. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

After the anti-Tamil riots of 1983 and as the ethnic insurgency increased in the north, the government turned to a variety of foreign nations to assist in its counterinsurgency campaign. In May 1984, at considerable cost to its standing among Third World nations, the government arranged for the establishment of an Israeli special interest section in Colombo. Operating out of the United States embassy, agents from Shin Bet, the Israeli counterespionage and internal security organization, trained members of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force and other groups in intelligence gathering and internal security techniques.*

Other nations that have reportedly provided training include Australia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the United States. Unconfirmed press reports suggest that a number of foreign advisers, including Englishmen, Pakistanis, and South Africans, have actually taken part in combat operations against the Tamil insurgents. In April 1986, the Indian press announced that a Pakistani Air Force officer had been killed in an airplane crash shortly after participating in an air assault in Northern Province.*

Military relations between Sri Lanka and India underwent a major change in mid-1987. For almost ten years, the Tamil insurgency in Northern and Eastern provinces had been a major source of friction between the two nations because India provided shelter, training, and weapons to the insurgent groups. The Sri Lankan insurgents found abundant sympathy and support for their cause within the Tamil-dominated Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and Madras served as the headquarters from which they regularly issued condemnations of the government. Beginning in May 1987, the Indian government changed its official role from that of intermediary to active participant as it sought to abate the turmoil in the island and bring together the Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government. Although the resulting Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which was signed in July 1987, offered an equitable formula for restoring peace to the troubled nation, a subsequent exchange of executive letters accorded to India a substantial voice in Sri Lankan military affairs. In particular, Sri Lanka acceded to three major concessions. First, it agreed to consult New Delhi on the employment of all foreign military and intelligence personnel in Sri Lanka "with a view to insuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo-Sri Lankan relations." Second, it guaranteed that no Sri Lankan ports would be made available "for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests." Third, Sri Lanka agreed to review its contracts with foreign broadcasting organizations to insure that none of their facilities in Sri Lanka would be used for military or intelligence purposes. This latter concession was specifically aimed at Voice of America broadcasting operations on the island. In return, New Delhi agreed to deport all Sri Lankan terrorists and insurgents operating on Indian soil and to provide military training and supplies to the Sri Lankan armed forces. Press reports in early 1988 suggested that Sri Lanka was prepared to expand and formalize its military relationship with India through a treaty of friendship and cooperation similar to that linking India with the Soviet Union.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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