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
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
Data as of October 1988