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Nepal Force Dispositions and Capabilities
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    In 1991 the Royal Nepal Army, numbering approximately 35,000, was the country's sole military force. Army organization followed the British pattern. Field formations included fourteen infantry brigades. The brigades were numbered consecutively from one through sixteen (minus numbers eight and twelve, which were considered inauspicious according to Hindu astrology). The fourteen brigades, in turn, controlled a variety of units, including infantry battalions, an airborne unit, an air defense regiment, a signal battalion, a transportation regiment, an armored car company, and an unknown number of independent infantry companies and special forces units.

    One of the army infantry battalions served as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and performed peacekeeping duties in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Personnel in this battalion served six-month tours of duty, after which they returned home and were replaced by personnel drawn from other units on a rotating basis. Selection for service in UNIFIL was highly coveted by soldiers of all rank because those who served abroad received United Nations-scale pay and perquisites, as well as the opportunity to purchase consumer items that were unavailable or prohibitively expensive at home.

    The peacetime disposition of forces underscored the fact that the army's primary mission was to back up local police in maintaining security in the Kathmandu Valley, the seat of government and the linchpin of political stability in the country. Fully half of the army brigades were garrisoned in or around the capitol, including the elite Royal Guards Brigade (the ninth) that served as the monarchy's praetorian guard. Additionally, many of the independent and specialized army units were attached to brigades stationed in Kathmandu. These units included an airborne battalion (known as the "para battalion") and various signal, engineer, artillery, transport, and medical units. Brigade headquarters outside the capital were located at Pokhara, Dipayal, and other towns across the country. Each of the brigades bore a distinctive unit nomenclature after the British fashion and wore distinctive arm patches. Lower echelon designations within each brigade included squadrons and troops (equivalent to United States Army companies and platoons, respectively).

    Throughout its modern existence, the army has had to cope with shortages of virtually every category of weapon and equipment. Inventory consisted mostly of obsolete weapons purchased from, or donated by, India and Britain. This equipment included Ferret scout cars, various calibers of towed artillery pieces and mortars, and a diverse array of small arms. During wartime and declared national emergencies, the military had the authority to commandeer private and state-owned transport assets, such as trucks and buses for ferrying troops and supplies. Some miscellaneous equipment items, such as communications gear, small arms, and air defense guns, were purchased from France, Germany, the United States, and China. Nepal lacked both the financial resources to purchase major equipment items and a foreign benefactor willing to supply armaments on a grant or concessional basis. Consequently, it was unlikely that Nepal could sustain high-intensity combat operations without massive foreign assistance provided on a timely basis.

    The army also supported a modest air wing known as the Royal Nepal Army Air Service. Based in Kathmandu and subordinate to a brigade, the organization was established in 1979. Its missions were to transport troops to far-flung outposts that were inaccessible by road, to fly paratroopers to drop zones, and to assist in civilian relief operations in the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods or avalanches. In 1991 the army air service inventory included fixed-wing aircraft, such as Indian-made HS-748 turboprops, Skyvans, and a DeHaviland Twin Otter. Its helicopter inventory included Pumas, a Bell 2061, Allouettes, and Chetaks (Indian-made Allouettes). In all, the air order of battle totalled about fourteen aircraft of all descriptions, none of which were believed to be armed with guns or missiles. Consequently, the army air service was considered a logistics support element as opposed to an offensive strike asset.

    Pilots were trained abroad, primarily in India and Britain. The force reportedly suffered critical shortages of maintenance personnel, owing to the scarcity of technically competent recruits and the attraction of lucrative job offers in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. There were thirty-six airfields in Nepal that could be used for military airlift operations. Many of the airfields were configured for short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft operated by Royal Nepal Airlines, the government-owned commercial airline. Commercial aircraft could be pressed into military service during emergencies (see Civil Aviation , ch. 3). In 1991 the inventory of Royal Nepal Airlines totalled eighteen aircraft.

    Data as of September 1991

    NOTE: The information regarding Nepal on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nepal Force Dispositions and Capabilities information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nepal Force Dispositions and Capabilities should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 27-Mar-05
Copyright © 2004 Photius Coutsoukis (all rights reserved)