Since the 2010 conclusion of Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict with Tamil Tiger separatists in the country’s northern regions, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) has been re-inventing itself to develop the operational agility required to tackle today’s complex defence and security challenges. The ‘Sri Lanka Navy’s Maritime Strategy 2025’, its roadmap for achieving this aim, was released in November 2016 at the navy’s Galle Dialogue conference in Colombo. The SLN’s lack of resources, especially bigger ships, resulted in weak security in the maritime domain of Sri Lanka. This situation has led to the rise of non-state actors and organized groups using Sri Lanka as a hub for transnational organized crime (TOC).
The Navy conspicuously envisaged its future role as the sea-going arm bound to protect the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nm and staggering Search and Rescue region of 1,738,062.24 km2 in due course. The acquisition of large-scale ships and craft with technologically advanced systems is extremely vital for the Sri Lanka Navy as it aspires to become a force that has the capability to venture out to the deep blue seas. The vision of empowering the Navy with 20 ships by 2025 has been clearly defined in the ‘Sri Lanka Navy’s Maritime Strategy 2025’. One shortcoming in the new 20-ship navy is the lack of amphibious landing platforms.
The Sri Lanka Navy should continuously seek to maintain a naval strategy to achieve its designated role as required by the State. The ocean area around Sri Lanka lies within some of the major international shipping routes across the Indian Ocean. It is the responsibility of the SLN to maintain an effective surveillance of this vast ocean area in respect of following: – Maintaining Freedom of Navigation in sea lines of communications; Prevent maritime pollution; Prevent poaching and
smuggling; Prevent Sea piracy; Protection of agencies exploiting ocean resources; Ensure maritime safety; Salvage and search and rescue; Assistance in maritime research.
Except Sri Lanka, all the nations in the neighborhood have acquired submarines to their naval fleets. The latest country to acquire a three-dimensional force was Bangladesh.
History has shown had Sri Lanka strengthened its navy and adopted a cohesive strategy to deny terrorists freedom of movement at sea across the Palk Straits in the 1980s, possibly Tamil terrorism wouldn’t have survived for over 30 years. Although successive governments acquired a range of vessels and increased the strength of the SLN over the years, the absence of an overall security strategy caused periodic setbacks. The failure on the part of the navy to effectively patrol the seas had a catastrophic impact on the entire war effort.
The offshore patrol vessels headed naval task forces that sailed deep into the Indian Ocean to chase and sink rebel arms supply vessels from which the Tigers used smaller craft to bring stocks ashore from time to time. The loss of the rebel ‘floating warehouses’ as they were called seriously eroded the Tigers’ fighting ability and has been described as the navy’s biggest contribution to defeating the rebels.