Combat training
Combat training

Being a strategically positioned island, the nation of Sri Lanka takes pride in her navy. The Sri Lanka Navy has guarded our territorial seas, gradually expanding to upgrade the fleet with an assortment of advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels and frigate class vessels. Similar developments have been made in all allied and auxiliary branches of naval service. The transformation of a young civilian from the stage of a cadet to a midshipman and subsequently a flag rank officer such as a Captain, Commodore, Rear Admiral and finally Admiral is a demanding task. This is the role and task of the Naval and Maritime Academy (NMA) located in Trincomalee.

Nestled within the 800-acre Eastern Naval Command Headquarters, this training institute has successfully trained thousands of cadet officers. The NMA celebrated 50 years of service in 2018. Roman general Julius Caesar said, “Without training, they lacked knowledge. Without knowledge, they lacked confidence. Without confidence, they lacked victory.” This shows the importance of pragmatic training for a cadet officer. It has greater emphasis when sailing at sea, where the Captain and Officers must receive the trust and respect of their crews, hundreds of nautical miles away from shore.

Trincomalee is the deep soul of the Sri Lanka Navy, with its naturally blessed and formidable harbour. I have been privileged to visit the Eastern Naval Command on many occasions. Today, the NMA has grown to have 22 specialized schools of learning, including the OTW (Officer Training Wing) which takes in officer cadets and ensures that they pass out as confident Sub-Lieutenants. Likewise, sailors also learn their trade here in three phases during their active service in the Navy. The massive complex can train 2,000 personnel and has a library, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a salon, an auditorium, a hospital and places of worship. The modern firing range has a target distance of 600 metres.

Birth of NMA

In 1951, a naval training camp was established in the garrison town of Diyatalawa. The camp was commissioned as HMCyS Rangalla; its first officer in charge was Lieutenant Proctor. Its primary focus was basic recruit training. In 1963, the camp was relocated to Kochchikade. In 1965, a seaman training camp was set up in Trincomalee named HMCys Parakrama. In July 1967, the Naval and Maritime Academy was commissioned with its first commandant being Commander MGS Perera. He is thankfully remembered by generations of officers as a dynamic man with innovative and strategic thinking who set a solid foundation for the Naval Academy. M.G.S Perera, as an instructor, was able to relate to the level of a student’s intelligence. He worked with resolute dedication to set up the academy within a period of 18 months. At this stage, the Naval Academy had only five departments: Nautical, Engineering, Electrical, Communications and Supply.

For 23 years, Commander Perera served the Sri Lanka Navy inspiring officers and sailors. He retired as Director Naval Training. Before the setting up of the Naval and Maritime Academy, officer cadets were sent to the Britannia Royal College, Dartmouth, UK. Today, the NMA Trincomalee has received ISO certification. As I gazed at the photos of former commandants of this magnificent academy, I recognized the names of some Admirals who rose to command the Sri Lanka Navy: H.A. Silva, W.W.E. Clancy Fernando, H.A.C. Tissera, D.W.K Sandagiri, W.K.J. Karannagoda (Admiral of the Fleet), R.C. Wijegunaratne (former Chief of Defence Staff), Travis J.L. Sinniah and S.S. Ranasinghe.

Officer Training

The famous American Admiral William McRaven said, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” This shows the importance of a solid basic training. Accompanied by a Lieutenant, we began our tour inside the Officer Training Wing. The OTW was established in 1992 under Lt. Cdr. T.M.J. Mendis. The incumbent Training Captain is Captain Indika de Silva and the Commandant of the Academy is Commodore Dhammika Kumara. The present Commander Eastern Naval Area is Rear Admiral Ruwan Perera who has served as a former Training Captain (2009/2010) and Commandant (2013/2014).

Officer Trainees are absorbed into the Navy via Cadet Entry, Direct Entry (degree holders), Service Entry and those enrolled at the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU). The cadets (officer under trainees) begin each day at 4.45 am and engage in physical training. After breakfast, they muster at the parade ground. Academic classes begin by 8.30 am. Lunch is at 1.30 pm. After this, cadets have time until 4.15 pm to engage in team building sports such as volleyball, cricket, basketball, football and swimming. By 6 pm, they have supper and prepare for the night rounds. During night rounds, an officer (holding rank of Lieutenant Commander) visits and inspects accommodation areas of cadets. They have to be dressed in their ‘black and white’ mess uniforms. Those who are not meeting the mark receive punitive discipline.

Cadets also receive 14 days of intense combat training in the jungle. They can enjoy their holidays in April, August and December when they can return home. After completing a year of training, cadets are promoted to midshipmen rank and wear the epaulette with a white cord. After another year of training, they receive a degree and are commissioned as acting Sub-Lieutenants. Their career training is augmented by another six-month training. Midshipmen in the Executive Branch go onboard various naval vessels for sea training. There are opportunities to learn in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and the USA. A new feature at the NMA is that all officer cadets learn the art of sailing as a sport. The Academy was awarded the President’s Colours in 2003.

New horizons

Driving around the academy we were able to visit many of the 22 schools that train both officers and sailors. The schools include Navigation, Engineering, Communication, Marksmanship and Sniper Training, Information Technology, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Combat Training, Seamanship, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Diving, Physical Training, Gunnery, Damage Control and Fire Fighting, Medical School, Provost and Regulating, Supply and Secretariat, English Language School and Civil Engineering. I had the pleasure of having some meals at the catering school where aspiring cooks learn their basics. Good healthy food is vital for wellbeing and enhances morale, especially at sea.

The Naval and Maritime Academy also conducts Long Courses for officers (Lieutenant Rank) in the specialized areas of Gunnery, Navigation, Communication, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Logistics. This programme covers 40 weeks of study. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt once opined “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” This is duly reflected in the training of officers at the Trincomalee academy. The Naval and Maritime Academy has produced dedicated officers and sailors who continue to form our island’s first line of strategic defence.