Posted on January 20th, 2020


PART 13  of this series is on the Sri Lanka armed forces.

The Sri Lanka army was established under the Army Act No. 17 of 1949. Brigadier James Sinclair, Earl of Caithness was first Commander of the Army.  The army started with an artillery regiment, an engineer squadron, an infantry battalion, a medical unit, and a service corps company.  Members of the earlier Ceylon Defence Force, (1910- 1949) formed the nucleus of the army. The Ceylon Defence Force was an experienced force. It had   fought in the two World Wars alongside British. The fledgling Sri Lanka army therefore consisted of experienced persons, from the beginning. It was not an army composed of raw recruits, new to warfare.

Ceylon had entered into a Defence Agreement with Britain in 1947. This Defence agreement had provisions for training the new army.  Training in Ceylon was provided by  British Army Training Team (BATT). However, senior officers went to the British Army Staff College, Camberley and to the British Army of the Rhine to gain field experience.

From 1949 officers were sent for training to Sandhurst. They were selected through competitive examination and interview. After the exam, we had a preliminary interview with senior officers of the Army, chaired by the Chief of Staff. The final interview was at the Ministry of Defence, said former Commander Gerry de Silva.

In the 1950s and 1960s Sri Lanka was very proud of the fact that it officers were ‘Sandhurst trained.’ The Sandhurst training was for leading and commanding  troops. Sandhurst trained 80  Ceylonese officers between 1949 and 1968.  ‘I think Sandhurst training helped greatly in the formative years of the Sri Lanka Army. We didn’t have an officer core as such till the Sandhurst cadets returned,’ said Gerry de Silva.

We maintained British traditions right along said Gerry   de Silva in an interview. Those trained at Sandhurst introduced to the Sri Lankan Army the British traditions they had learnt in Sandhurst, and followed them. The ranks, training methods such as the drill system and the weapons training were all on the Sandhurst or the British model.

The army commanders who received this training included Commanders Denis Perera, and Gerry de Silva. Perera also attended the Royal School of Military Engineering  and British Army‘s Staff College, Camberley.   Lt Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa was trained entirely in Britain.  In addition to Sandhurst, he trained at the Royal College of Defence Studies for Senior Officers Thereafter, officers were sent for training to National Defence College, India. Commanders Tissa Weeratunga, Hamilton Wanasinghe and Sri Lal Weerasooriya trained in India.  

In the 1980s Sri Lanka developed its own training  institutes. There was the  Kotelawala Defence University ( 1981), Defence Services Command and Staff College  at Batalanda, Makola (1997) for Junior field officers and Sri Lanka Military Academy ,Diyatalawa   for basic officer training.

There is also Army Training School in Maduru Oya, Infantry Training Centre in Minneriya,  Combat Training School in Ampara and  Non-commissioned Officers Training School at Kala Oya. Specialized training was given at Marksman Sniper Training School ,Armoured Corps Training Centre, School of Artillery, Sri Lanka School of Military Engineering, School of Mechanical Engineers, School of Signals, Commando Regiment Training School, Special Forces Training School, Engineer Service School, Sri Lanka Army Service Corps school, Sri Lanka Army Ordnance School, Sri Lanka Electrical And Mechanical Engineers School

The 1980s saw a massive expiation of the army from 15,000 personal to over 30,000 and more. New regiments were raised, while others were expanded with new battalions. New weapons and equipment were introduced as the war shifted from counter-insurgency to conventional warfare tactics, with multi battalion, brigade and division scale operations. New regiments were formed which included the Commando Regiment, Special Forces Regiment, Mechanized Infantry Regiment, Gajaba Regiment, Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment, Military Intelligence Corps, Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps,

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. By 1990 the army had expanded to over 90,000 personnel and by 2007, it had expanded to over 120,000.

In 2010, the Army had approximately 200,000 regular personnel, between 20,000–40,000 reserve personnel and 18,000 National Guardsmen[ and comprises 13 operational divisions, one air-mobile brigade, one commando brigade, one special forces brigade, one independent armored brigade, three mechanized infantry brigades and over 40 infantry brigades.

In the 1980s, the army expanded its range of weapons from the original stock of World War II-era British Lee–Enfield rifles, Sten Submachine guns, Vickers machine guns, Bren machine guns, 6-inch coastal guns, Daimler Armoured Cars, Bren Gun Carriers,[66] 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft guns and 4.2-inch heavy mortars as well as post war Alvis Saladins, Alvis Saracen, Ferrets and Shorland S55s. New sources of weaponry in the mid-to-late 1970s included the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and China – countries with which the leftist Bandaranaike government had close ties.

To meet the threat posed by predominantly the LTTE, Army purchasemodern military hardware including 50-caliber heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, Night Vision Devices, 106 mm recoilless rifles, 60 mm and 81 mm mortars, 40 mm grenade launchers and some sniper rifles.


Refurbished armored personnel carriers were added to the ‘A’ vehicle fleet of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps. These APCs enabled the Armoured Corps to have their own assault troops to provide close contact protection to their Alvis Saladin and Ferret Scout Cars which were vulnerable to anti-tank weapons.

The capability of the Sri Lanka Artillery was enhanced with the introduction of Ordnance QF 25 pounders.[ Chinese-made 122 mm, 130 mm and 152 mm howitzers were introduced to the Sri Lankan Army in 1995 and 1998 whilst 122 mm Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL), were first used in 2000 by the Sri Lanka Army. Though the weapons were obsolete at the time of purchase, security forces found them to be successful in combat.

LTTE has set land mines weighed approximately 50 – 100 kg, against which no armoured vehicle that the SLA possessed was able to withstand the blast effect. Armscor BuffelsSouth African armoured personnel carriers constructed on a Unimog chassis – were imported in quantity to withstand land mines. By 1987 Sri Lanka’s indigenous Unicorn APC had been engineered from the Buffel, followed by the improved Unibuffel class. Both the Unicorn and the Unibuffel are assembled by the Sri Lanka Electrical & Mechanical Engineers.

The  Sri Lankan Navy was established on 9 December 1950 when the Navy Act was passed for the formation of the Royal Ceylon Navy. Its nucleus was Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force  established,  in 1937.This Volunteer Force was absorbed into Britain’s  Royal Navy as the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II. The first warship  was HMCyS Vijaya. Training was given at Diyatalawa  and Trincomalee. From  1967  senior officers were trained at Royal Naval College Dartmouth. Recent navy commanders were also trained there.

Sri Lanka Air Force was founded in 1951 as the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) with the assistance of Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF). Flight training was  given at RAF Station Negombo, and  RAF airfield at Katunayake,  In addition, a number of cadet officers received flight training at the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell,  UK . When Sri Lanka took over the British air and naval bases in 1956, SLAF took over the former RAF stations, Katunayake and China Bay. These became SLAF operational stations while ancillary functions were carried out at Diyatalawa and Ekala. In 1967,  a Flight Training School was established at China Bay.

Senior officers of the ranks of Squadron Leader and Wing Commander are given advanced training at the Defence Services Command and Staff College (DSCSC) at Batalanda, Makola. This was established in 1997. Others are trained at SLAF Junior Command & Staff College at  China Bay

Basic officer training is carried out at the Air Force Academy at Bay. The academy offers a two-year program of basic flight training and a variety of specialized courses. Initial Ground Combat Training   is given at Diyatalawa. Diyatalawa also conducts advanced training for SLAF regiment officer cadets.

 Following training at SLAF Diyatalawa, general duties (pilot) branch officer cadets are sent to the Air Force Academy for flight training, and airmen and airwomen are sent to Advanced and Specialized Trade Training School for specialized training in different trades. Air traffic controllers receive schooling at special facilities in Colombo. Approximately twenty-five officers a year receive advanced training abroad, most commonly in Britain, Indian Air Force and, in recent years, at the United States Air Force Academy.

In the 1950s the army was preoccupied with the task of building itself and training its personnel. It was not called on to defend the country. The army first came  to public attention  with the failed military coup d’état of 1962.

A group of Christian officers in the military and police planned to topple the government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike during the night of 27 January 1962, organized by Colonel F. C. de Saram (Deputy Commandant, Ceylon Volunteer Force), Colonel Maurice De Mel, (Commandant, Ceylon Volunteer Force), Rear Admiral Royce de Mel (former Captain of the Royal Ceylon Navy), C.C. Dissanayake (DIG, Range I), Sydney de Zoysa (retired DIG) and Douglas Liyanage (Deputy Director of Land Development), it was to take place in the night of 27 January 1962, but was called off as the government gained information in the afternoon and initiated arrests of the suspected coup leaders.[1] However, key leaders were arrested before the coup was carried out.  Thereafter, the government made sure that command structure of the army did not consist of Christians alone.

The army played a role in the 1971 insurrection and the need for  national security was realized.  In 1984, Israeli security personnel (reportedly from Shin Bet, the Israeli counterespionage and internal security organization) trained army officers in counterinsurgency techniques.   

The first time the Sri Lanka army was asked to fight for the security of the country, was in 1987, when the Eelam wars started  in the north. At the same time, there was a second  insurgency by the CIA funded  JVP,    in the south, forcing the army to deploy its forces in the south of the island and to fight on two fronts between 1987 and 1989.    Note: the main source for the military  data in  this essay is Wikipedia. (Continued)

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