Transforming the Sri Lankan Army

Editor, News-in-Asia, 7 August 2018, where the title is “Sri Lankan army set to become a multi-faceted, capacity-based force”

By Editor on August 7, 2018No Comment

The Sri Lanka army, which in May 2009 did what was thought to be “impossible”, namely,  annihilate the dreaded separatist militant group, the Tamil Tigers, is today in the process of transforming itself into a multi-faceted and capacity-based force capable of tackling multifarious threats to national security from a multiplicity of sources.

The SLA, led by the tough Special Forces officer cum qualified engineer, Lt.Gen.Mahesh Senanayake, is putting his officers and men through training in various skills which will enable them  to tackle any situation, whether man-made or nature-made.

In every crisis, whether man made or nature made, the first responder is always the army or the armed forces. And that calls for the right orientation and preparedness. Gen.Senanayake recalled that the Sri Lankan army had been the first responder when a devastating earthquake struck Nepal in 2015.

The SLA is already involved in the repair of hundreds of irrigation tanks in the North Western, North Central and Eastern provinces and cultivating crops in the North. It has  exchanged ploughshares for swords and has transformed itself from a fighting force into an agent of post-war ethnic reconciliation, which came in  for praise from the chief of the US Pacific Command when he visited Sri Lanka.

In its efforts to be socially and  economically relevant in peace time (even as it keeps itself fighting fit to meet any violent threats to the country), the SLA’s officers attend courses in universities to equip themselves with technical, managerial and intellectual skills.

The SLA’s expanding universe and broad outlook is reflected in the annual seminar it has been conducting since 2011. The international Colombo Defense Seminar 2018 to be held on August 30 and 31, is the most ambitious to date.

It will discuss subjects like: Demographic Transformation and Implications for Security; Technological Disruptions; Human-Induced Climate Change; Political and Violent Extremism; Internal Displacement; Cross Border Migrations; Urban Security in the 21 st.Century; Cyber Conflicts and Future Power;  Social Media and Authenticity;  Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Weapons; Destabilization of International Systems; Violent Non-State Actors; Diaspora Communities Amidst Conflicts;  and Technological Advancements and the Future of Warfare.

The overall theme of the seminar will be: “Security in an era of global disruptions.” About 800 foreign and local military and security experts and research scholars will participate, with 13 foreign and 14 local experts making presentations. All army chiefs in the SAARC region have been invited to participate. Thirty eight countries, including India, have confirmed participation. Gen.Senanayeke said that China is expected to send a delegation at the Major General’s level.

On the final day, the various groups formed to discuss specific subjects will present a summary of their discussions and any consensus that might have emerged.

While Sri Lankan President and Defense Minister Maithripala Sirisena will be the Chief Guest on the opening day, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will deliver the keynote address.

Explaining the reason for discussing the Diaspora’s impact on security, Gen.Senanayake said that some Diaspora communities have evolved out of conflict (such as the Tamil Diaspora in the Western countries). These again may be divided into two groups: those willing to engage with the government and come back to economically develop their homeland; and those who are hostile, Those interested in coming to terms with the State should be encouraged to do so, while those  who are hostile should be engaged constructively,the General said.

The General and his team said the nature of warfare and security issues  have changed and will continue to change. Security forces trained to fight in a particular scenario could find themselves facing new challenges in new settings for which they should be prepared. Armies all over the world are gearing themselves up to identify these challenges and get prepared to face them. Urban warfare and warfare against small but elusive and deadly non-State groups are among the new challenges.

Armies interact with each other to get to know more about these challenges and how various armies face them. The annual Colombo Defense Seminar has established itself as an appropriate forum, the General said.

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