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Sri Lanka-The Navy

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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).

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.

Data as of October 1988

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