Royal Bhutan Army

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The Royal Bhutan Army (Dzongkha: བསྟན་སྲུང་དམག་སྡེ་; Wylie: bstan-srung dmag-sde),[1] or RBA, is a branch of the armed forces of the Kingdom of Bhutan responsible for maintaining the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty against security threats. The King of Bhutan is the Supreme Commander in Chief of the RBA.[2] The Chief Operations Officer is Goonglon Gongma (Lt. Gen.) Batoo Tshering.[3][4]

The RBA includes the Royal Body Guards (RBG), an elite branch of the armed forces responsible for the security of the King, the Royal Family and other VIPs.[5]

It was customary, but not obligatory, for one son from each Bhutanese family to serve in the army.[5] In addition, militia may be recruited during emergencies. It may, from time to time, be called on to assist the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in maintaining law and order.[6]


Further information: Military history of Bhutan
First King of Bhutan Ugyen Wangchuk with his bodyguards in 1905 before the formation of the RBA

With intense support from India, the RBA was formed in the 1950s in response to the Chinese take over and subsequent People's Liberation Army actions in Tibet. In 1958, the royal government introduced a conscription system and plans for a standing army of 2,500 soldiers.[5] The Indian government had also repeatedly urged and pressured Bhutan to end its neutrality or isolationist policy and accept Indian economic and military assistance. This was because India considered Bhutan one of the most vulnerable sectors in its strategic defense system in regards to China.[7] When Bhutan accepted the Indian offer, the Indian Army became responsible for the training and equipping of the RBA. By 1968 the RBA consisted of 4,850 soldiers; by 1990 this had risen to 6,000.[5] Following the increases after an anti-militant operation in 2003, the RBA peaked at over 9,000 in 2007 before being reduced to 8,000 in 2008.[8]

Relationship with the Indian Armed Forces[edit]

The Indian Army maintains a training mission in Bhutan, known as the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT), responsible for the training of RBA and RBG personnel.[9] RBA and RBG officers are sent for training at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, and Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun.[10]

Project DANTAK of the Border Roads Organisation, a subdivision of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers, has been operating in Bhutan since May 1961. Since then Project DANTAK has been responsible for the construction and maintenance of over 1,500 km of roads and bridges, Paro Airport and a disused airfield at Yangphula, heliports and other infrastructure. While these serve India's strategic defense needs, they are also an obvious economic benefit for the people of Bhutan.[11]

Army aviation[edit]

The Royal Bhutan Army relies on Eastern Command of the Indian Air Force for air medical evacuation assistance.[12] Indian Air Force helicopters evacuated RBA casualties to India for treatment during Operation All Clear in 2003.[13]

2003 Operation: All Clear[edit]

Main article: Operation All Clear

During the early '90s 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. These camps were used to train cadres, store equipment and launch attacks on targets in India.[14] The Bhutanese government became aware of their presence in 1996, and from 1997 the issue was regularly discussed in the National Assembly.[15] The Government of India began exerting diplomatic pressure on the Royal Government to remove the militant presence and offered to conduct joint military operations with Bhutan against the militants. The Royal Government, preferring a peaceful solution, declined the offer and instead initiated dialogue with the militant groups in 1998.[16] By December 2003 negotiations had failed to produce any agreement and the Royal Government, unable to tolerate the groups' presence any longer, issued a 48-hour ultimatum on 13 December. On 15 December the RBA commenced military operations against the militant groups.[14]

Combat operations[edit]

Under the leadership of His Majesty the 4th King, the RBA and RBG, with a total strength of 6,000, attacked an estimated 3,000 militants spread across 30 camps.[17][18] By 27 December 2003 all 30 camps had been captured. Additionally, the RBA seized "more than 500 AK 47/56 assault rifles and 500 other assorted weapons including rocket launchers and mortars, along with more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition. An anti-aircraft gun was also found at the site of the GHQ of the ULFA."[19]

By 3 January 2004 all 30 camps (ULFA-14, NDFB-11, KLO-5) and an additional 35 observation posts were destroyed and the militants dislodged.[20] A total of 485 ULFA, NDFB and KLO militants were killed or captured; those captured along with the seized weapons and ammunition were handed over to the Government of India. Captured non-combatants were handed over to Assamese civil authorities. The RBA suffered 11 soldiers killed in action and 35 wounded in action.[13]


The Ha Dzong complex houses army offices.

As of 2008 the RBA stood at 8,000 active-duty personnel.[8] This follows an initiative introduced in 2005 by the Royal Government of Bhutan to reduce the strength of the RBA while increasing militia training of the Bhutanese population.[21]

Army Welfare Project[edit]

The Army Welfare Project (AWP) is a commercial enterprise of the RBA established in 1974 to provide benefits for retired RBA and RBG personnel in the form of employment, pensions and loans.[5][22] The AWP manufactures alcoholic beverages in two distilleries located in Gelephu and Samtse.[23]

Melee weapons[edit]

The RBA is a mobile infantry force lightly armed with weapons largely supplied by India.


Assault rifles[edit]

Infantry support weapons[edit]

Armoured Vehicle[edit]

Army Aviation[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "༈ རྫོང་ཁ་ཨིང་ལིཤ་ཤན་སྦྱར་ཚིག་མཛོད། ༼བསྟ༽" [Dzongkha-English Dictionary: "BSTA"]. Dzongkha Development Commission. 
  2. ^ "The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan" (PDF). Government of Bhutan. art.28. ISBN 99936-754-0-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "Dozin Batoo Tshering takes over as COO of RBA". Kuensel. 2 November 2005. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Eastern Commander visits Bhutan". Kuensel. 20 September 2008. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "A Country Study: Bhutan". Federal Research Division, US Library of Congress. 1991. sec. Armed Forces. 
  6. ^ "A Country Study: Bhutan". Federal Research Division, US Library of Congress. 1991. sec. Militia. 
  7. ^ Mathou, Thierry (2004). "Bhutan-China Relations: Towards a New Step in Himalayan Politics" (PDF). First International Seminar on Bhutan Studies (Centre for Bhutan Studies): 394. 
  8. ^ a b "Countries at the Crossroads: Bhutan". Freedom House. 2011. 
  9. ^ "Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT), Bhutan". Indian Army. Archived from the original on 19 June 2009. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Choden, Tashi (Winter 2004). "Indo-Bhutan Relations Recent Trends" (PDF). Journal of Bhutan Studies (Centre for Bhutan Studies) 11 (6): 119. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "Dantak". Border Roads Organisation. Government of India. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "Eastern air command chief visits Bhutan". Kuensel. 10 May 2002. Archived from the original on 5 November 2006. 
  13. ^ a b "A Nation Pays Tribute". Kuensel. 15 August 2004. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "The Militant Problem". Kuensel. 15 December 2003. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Penjore, Dorji (Summer 2004). "Security of Bhutan: Walking Between the Giants" (PDF). Journal of Bhutan Studies (Centre for Bhutan Studies) 10 (9): 108–131. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "Resolving the Militant Problem". Kuensel. 15 December 2003. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  17. ^ "Bhutanese Army Actions Against Militants". Indian Defence Review, Volume 24. April–June 2004. p. 81. 
  18. ^ "Security Troops Continue Operations to Flush Indian Militants out of Bhutan". Kuensel. 20 December 2003. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  19. ^ "Protecting mutual concerns and interests". Kuensel. 27 December 2003. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  20. ^ "RBA Makes Good Progress in Flushing Out Operations". Kuensel. 3 January 2004. 
  21. ^ "Militia Should Start in 2012". Kuensel. 16 June 2007. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. 
  22. ^ "Company to promote ‘responsible drinking’". Kuensel. 23 January 2013. 
  23. ^ "Alcohol Use and Abuse in Bhutan" (PDF). National Statistics Bureau of Bhutan. p. 24. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  24. ^ "World Air Forces 2013". RUAG. 2013. p. 10. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013.