The Sri Lanka Army is the oldest and largest of the three armed services of Sri Lanka and is responsible for overseeing land-based military and humanitarian operations. Established as the Royal Ceylon Army in 1949, it was renamed when Sri Lanka became an independent republic in 1972. As of the year 2000, the Army had approximately 150,000 regular and reserve personnel and 18,000 National Guardsmen, who are organized into 26 regiments.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lanka Army is the President of the country. He provides operational direction to the Joint Operations Council and oversees other aspects of the Army through the Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for all security forces (armed forces and police). The professional head of the army is the Commander of the Army, at present Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka.
History – Ancient and pre-colonial times
The first military engagements in Sri Lankan history were marked by the advent of King Vijaya, a North Indian prince who landed along with his followers on the beaches of northwestern Sri Lanka around 543 BC. Repeated incursions by South Indians, particularly the Cholas, into Sri Lankan territory occurred throughout the next few centuries and led to the engagement of the rival forces in battle. In one famous encounter, Sinhalese King Dutugemunu (200 BC) raised an army of eleven thousand inhabitants in his battle against the Chola invader King Elara, whom he eventually defeated. King Dutugemunu’s organizational skills, bravery and chivalry are famous and his battles have gone down in history as outstanding offensive operations.
Other Sri Lankan rulers whose military achievements stand out include King Gajabâhu (113 AD), who sailed to India to bring back his captured soldiers, and King Dhatusena (433 AD) who is credited with repulsing numerous Indian invasions and for organizing a naval build-up to deter seaborne attacks. He also had the foresight to cover his defenses with artillery. Vijayabâhu I (1001 AD) was another warrior king who dislodged Indian invaders and united the country. Parakramabahu the Great (1153 AD) was an outstanding monarch of the Polonnaruwa period of Sri Lankan history, and his accomplishments as a military leader and a great administrator are noteworthy. His reign included a military expedition to Burma (Myanmar) in retaliation for indignities inflicted on his envoys and Burmese interference in the elephant trade. This marked the first overseas expedition in Sri Lankan military history. It is also reported that Parakramabahu’s fame was such that his assistance was sought by South Indian rulers who were involved in internecine struggles. Another strong ruler in the pre-colonial era was Parâkramabâhu VI, who defeated Indian invaders, united the island and ruled it from capital Sri Jayawardhanapura, Kotte.
Although the known epigraphical records do not indicate that the Sri Lankan rulers had a full-time standing army at their disposal, there is evidence supported by legend, designation, name, place and tradition that prove there were ‘stand-by’ equestrian, elephant, and infantry divisions to ensure royal authority at all times. Militias were raised as the necessity arose, and …