Posted on December 5th, 2020


During Yahapalana rule, there was much emphasis on the Sri Lanka navy. The Sri Lankan Navy is a well-trained and professional force with the potential to contribute to multi-lateral maritime interoperability in the Indian Ocean, said US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Philip Davidson in 2019.The US Indo-Pacific command would focus in 2019 on increasing navy-to-navy engagement with Sri Lanka.

Before that, officers of the US 7th Fleet and Sri Lanka Navy met at the Naval Headquarters in May 2017 for discussions. Such discussions were important for furthering mutual cooperation between the two navies, they said. US Captain Brian Anderson ‘expressed his contentment over a range of matters including bilateral cooperation. A Sri Lanka Marine Corps was set up with US help in 2017.

The U.S. Coast Guard gave a high endurance cutter, formerly the USCGC Sherman, to the Sri Lankan Navy in August 2018 at Honolulu. The cutter, a gift from the people of the United States, will be the largest ship in the Sri Lankan fleet said the media. It measures 115 meters long and when fully staffed carries a crew of 167 The ship will increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, providing additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.

The public were surprised to hear that Yahapalana planned to expand the Sri Lanka navy,  in keeping with the SLN’s Maritime strategy 2025. Sri Lanka plans to build a 20-ship Navy by 2025. Why do you need a peacetime fleet bigger than one available during the conflict, asked the media.

 The Navy authorities replied  that is was necessary to meet present and future maritime surveillance, patrolling as well as search-and-rescue needs.  Even in the absence of war, we need a larger fleet to guarantee our maritime rights and interests and also to meet our international obligations. Our SAR (Search and Rescue) region is nearly 27 times that of land area therefore an expanded fleet is necessary.

The Yahapalana government  said in 2016  that it was the duty of the Sri Lanka navy to protect the entire Indian Ocean region without limiting its operation to the exclusive economic zone of Sri Lanka.  That will help Sri Lanka be an economic hub in the Indian Ocean region.  Our navy cannot even protect us from the Indian fishermen, observed Tissa Vitharana. If Sri Lanka navy is to carry out this huge responsibility, then US ships will have to be berthed in Sri Lanka.  The US 7th fleet will come to Trincomalee.  

Several ships from the US 7th fleet  arrived in Sri Lanka during Yahapalana time. US navy ship USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US 7th fleet, arrived in Colombo in March 2016 on a goodwill visit, with over 900 sailors. President Sirisena visited the ship and was received with a US navy military guard.

The  Blue Ridge visit emphasized public relations one. The American sailors would paint walls, repair furniture, build playground equipment and serve food to the needy at a community centre.  The US 7th fleet band would perform free at Viharamaha Devi park and elsewhere, and the performance will include a join performance with the Sri Lanka navy band, announced the media.

USS New Orleans  a heavy cruiser ship, visited   in July 2016. US war ship USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender vessel visited in August 2016. This ship  provided maintenance and support for US Navy submarines in the 5th and 7 fleets. In Sri Lanka  Its sailors were to volunteer at an animal shelter.

The US navy Poseidon aircraft, an advanced US maritime patrol aircraft, left Mattala in December 2016 after a week of consultation and expert exchange with Sri Lanka military personnel.

In March 2017, the US Pacific Fleet’s transport ship USNS Fall River visited Hambantota on a Pacific Partnership goodwill mission. It held joint exercises with the navies of Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia. USS ‘Comstock’ , a dock landing ship, arrived  for a four day training workshop at Colombo harbour in March 2017.  

USA’s  Nimitz Carrier Strike Group  visited Colombo  in October 2017. USS Nimitz is a super carrier of the United States Navy, and the lead ship of her class. This was the first aircraft carrier to visit since1985.  USS Nimitz  arrived in full formation.   Nimitz   was accompanied by the cruiser USS Princeton,  destroyers USS Howard, USS Shoup, USS Pinckney and USS Kidd. It was parked 150  nautical miles  off Colombo. It was too large to enter Colombo harbor.

Amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage), and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived at Trincomalee Port in August 2018. Anchorage is deployed to the 7th fleet area of operations to support regional stability, reassure partners and allies and maintain a presence postured to respond to any crisis from humanitarian assistance to contingency operations.

USS Anchorage  was used to test USA’s air logistics hub concept which utilizes Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean to ensure the quick availability of relief supplies, equipment and other material when needed by the US and partners.. The Sri Lankan navy, and the U.S. Embassy have provided tremendous assistance and cooperation in developing the first temporary air logistics hub concept in Sri Lanka, said Anchorage.

In august 2018 a joint humanitarian assistance mission called Pacific Angel, sponsored by the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) held a week long assistance programme in Jaffna in August 2016. They provided general medical care for approximately 4000 people and renovated six schools. The mission operated in Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. One school assisted was Alagalla School in Vavuniya. The purpose was to provide humanitarian civic assistance and carry out civil-military operations in the Pacific region.

There were several joint navy exercises.  I will list them chronologically. The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit engaged in a Theatre security Cooperation (TSC) project with the Sri Lankan Navy’s newly formed marine force, In Trincomalee in November 2016. India observed  that US Marines are now training Sri Lanka Special Forces. The US-Sri Lanka  defence partnership seems to be at an all time high.

The U.S. Navy and Marines and Sri Lankan Navy and Marines launched the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise in Trincomalee in October 2107.  US navy  said  ‘ it was pleased to add Sri Lanka to our list of CARAT partners in 2017 as part of our larger efforts to expand both bilateral and multilateral maritime security engagement across the Indo-Pacific region.’

CARAT Sri Lanka 2017 is part of a series of bilateral CARAT military exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand. 

The world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise (Rim of the Pacific – RIMPAC) took place in the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California in June/August 2018. After 47 years Sri Lanka Navy Marines got the opportunity attend RIMPAC. A Sri Lanka media team joined other international media in documenting the exercise. The many exercises conducted during RIMPAC included the training on the operations of an assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard. Participants gained firsthand knowledge on how rescue operations are conducted, how victims are brought to the ship and transferred to the ICU.

In July 2018 The Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercise between US Naval Special Warfare Forces personnel and Sri Lanka naval personnel from the 4th Fast Attack Flotilla (4FAF) and Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was inaugurated at the Special Boat Squadron Training School (SBSTS) in Trincomalee. The programme is held annually as part of a mutual understanding and agreements for the training and support requirements of both countries. The four – week course focused on developing professional skills and exchange of knowledge among naval personnel of US Naval Special Warfare Forces and Sri Lanka Navy

The third KDU-CNA Track 1.5 Dialogue on Naval cooperation was held in July 2018 at the Faculty of Graduate Studies, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU).The two-day dialogue was a collaborative initiative between KDU and the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), USA. The KDU-CNA Track 1.5 Dialogue is a one-of-a-kind discussion that we organize at KDU, facilitating interaction between the navies of Sri Lanka and the United States, along with the participation of relevant academics.”

 This year’s Track 1.5 Dialogue focused on how bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the USA could be further improved in a variety of spheres and how the global security concerns are influencing the relations between the two countries. Track 1.5 diplomacy is an initiative to bring together government and non-governmental actors to discuss on a variety of topics that could improve the bilateral relations of countries. As such, this two-day deliberation witnessed the participation of analysts and academics along with naval officials from the navies of both participating countries for a discussion. Held under the Chatham House Rule, this year’s Dialogue included four main sessions, with the 5th and final session being a wrap-up session with the speakers providing forward-looking, implementable suggestions for Sri Lanka and the United States.

The last joint US-SL naval exercise,   ‘Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise (CARAT) 2019,’  took place in Hambantota in  April 2019, with the participation of hundreds of personnel.     The two US ships participating were Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS ‘Spruance’ and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USS ‘Millinocket,’ which is part of the United States Military Sealift Command. The 103m long ‘Millinocket’ has a displacement of 2362 tons, while ‘Spruance’ is 155.3m long and has a displacement capacity of 9580 tons.

SLNS Sayurala  and SLNS Samudura participated from Sri Lanka. The exercise was meant to strengthen the maritime security and cooperation through small boat handling, diving exercises, anti-terrorist operations.

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya  observed in January 2019 the US military carried out what it called a ‘temporary cargo transfer initiative’ where US Air Force planes brought cargo into the Bandaranaike International Airport – which is a commercial airport – and transferred supplies to an aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis of the US 7th Fleet. US embassy statements did not specify where the aircraft carrier was, but reports suggest it was in waters off Trincomalee.

 If the US plans to use the ports of Trincomalee and Colombo as part of a logistics hub to support its military activities in the Indian Ocean, the relevance of a high-speed rail link connecting  Trincomalee to Colombo, as planned in the MCC ,  becomes clear, she said.

These growing military ties with the US are not in the interest of Sri Lanka, Vitharana said. If military cooperation of this nature continues, and an American military base   is set up in Sri Lanka   , Sri Lanka would become a US puppet like the Philippines. ( continued)

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