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Royal Bhutan Army

Bhutan has 8,000 members in five military branches: the Royal Bhutan Army, Royal Bodyguard, National Militia, Royal Bhutan Police, and Forest Guards. India maintains a permanent military training presence in Bhutan through IMTRAT, the Indian Military Training Team. The Royal Bhutan Army was formed into a regular military force in the early 1950s following the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Following the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, India took control of and began to train the Bhutan Army. Over 4,000 Indian military advisors have been sent there. India helped establish and equip the Bhutan Air Force, which is deployed along the border with China, and encouraged Russia to provide military helicopters and logistical support.

The army's primary mission was border defense, but it also assisted the Royal Bhutan Police in performing internal security duties. The army also provided security at the Paro airport and regulated the sale, ownership, and licensing of civilian-owned firearms. For ceremonial occasions, the army had a band, some members of which were trained in India. The army's supreme commander in 1991 was the Druk Gyalpo; day-to-day operations were under the charge of the chief operations officer. The chief operations officer held the rank of colonel until 1981, when the position was upgraded to major general. Organizationally, the army headquarters ranked at the ministry level and was immediately subordinate to the Council of Ministers.

Most if not all of the army's weapons in the 1980s were manufactured in India. Rifles, bayonets, machine guns, and 81mm mortars have been noted in the army's weapons inventory, but some were believed to be obsolescent. Figures on defense expenditures were not publicly available and, in budgetary information published by the Planning Commission, were found only in general government costs. In FY 2002, the Bhutanese Government spent 1.9% of its GDP on the military or US $9.3 million.

During the early 1990s, the Indian Separatist groups, United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) had begun to clandestinely set up camps in Bhutan's dense southern jungles. The 6,000-strong army of Bhutan launched the first offensive in its history in 2003, attacking Indian separatist rebels(ULFA) with camps in the country.

The Bhutanese and Indian armies have connections dating back to the early ‘60’s. Most of the training of the Bhutanese Army is carried out by the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan. In December 2003 the Bhutanese Army, personally led by the King, undertook a surprise and successful military expulsion of ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) and Bodo militants from their illegal camps in South East Bhutan. The northeastern rebels—including the ULFA, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) — suffered a serious setback when the Royal Bhutan Army, in a well-organized campaign, destroyed their camps on its territory. “There is a limit to our patience” as Yeshey Dorjee, director of the Bhutan Foreign Ministry, said. “We cannot allow armed militants to open a parade on our soil flouting the law-and-order machinery.” It was reported that about 120 insurgents were killed and over 500 injured. Some important leaders were arrested. Although there is no specific evidence to suggest the groups were returning, there were a few reports that some Indian separatist militant groups are able to infiltrate across the border to escape Indian army pursuit.

People’s perception of the Bhutanese Army varies according to the ethnicity of the people. Drupkas take national Army in high esteem. On the other hand, the same Army is looked with suspicion by the people of Nepalese origin as it was instrumental in driving away a large section of the Nepalese population from Bhutan.

Royal Bhutan Army Air Arm

The Royal Bhutan Army relies on Eastern Air Command of the Indian Air Force for air assistance. In recent years India has helped Bhutan start to develop its military in all areas through military donations and training. Indian Air Force helicopters evacuated RBA casualties to India for treatment during Operation All Clear in 2003. Bhutan has one airport with paved runways (1,524 to 2,437 m), and one airport with unpaved runways (1,914 to 1,523m ). As of 2015 the Light Transport squadron had 1 Dornier Do-228, and the Medium Lift Transport squadron had 7 Mil Mi-8T Hip-C.

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Page last modified: 18-08-2016 15:47:18 ZULU