Royal Lao Armed Forces

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Royal Lao Armed Forces
Forces Armées du Royaume
Royal Lao Armed Forces emblem 1961-75
Founded 1959
Disbanded 1975
Service branches Royal Lao Army
Royal Lao Air Force
Royal Lao Navy
Headquarters Vientiane
Commander-in-Chief Bounpone Makthepharak
Commander Phasouk Somly Rasaphak
Active personnel 47,450 (at height)
Foreign suppliers  France
 United Kingdom
 United States
 Soviet Union
 South Vietnam
 Republic of China
Related articles
History Military history of Laos

The Royal Lao Armed Forces (French: Forces Armées du Royaume), best known by its French acronym FAR, were the official armed defense forces of the Kingdom of Laos, a state that existed from 1949 to 1975 in what is now the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The FAR was responsible for the defense of the Kingdom since its independence in October 1953 from France.


The foundations of the Royal Lao Armed Forces were laid on May 11, 1947, when King Sisavang Vong granted a constitution declaring Laos an independent nation (and a Kingdom from 1949) within the colonial framework of French Indochina. This act signalled the creation of a Laotian government capable of building its own administration over the next few years, including the establishment of a national defense force. The new Laotian military was officially created in July 1949 from a collection of pre-existing Lao police and militarized constabulary units, regular colonial indigenous troops, and locally raised irregular auxiliaries. However, the formation process was soon hampered by the developments of the ongoing First Indochina War in neighbouring Vietnam, and it was only in 1952 that the National Laotian Army (French: Armée Nationale Laotiènne – ANL) – the predecessor of the Royal Lao Army[1] – really began to take shape.

By July 1959, it was known as the Laotian Armed Forces (French: Forces Armées Laotiènnes – FAL), and in September 1961, was renamed Royal Armed Forces (French: Forces Armées du Royaume – FAR).[2]

Command structure[edit]

Throughout its existence, the Laotian Armed Forces were plagued by an ineffective leadership, particularly at senior levels, which often led to chain-of-command problems. The earlier colonial ANL units in the French Protectorate of Laos consisted mostly of uneducated Laotian peasant recruits led by French officers and senior NCOs; those few Laotians promoted from the ranks rose no further than the command of a company. After the Kingdom of Laos gained its independence in late 1953, the few Laotian officers with military experience were quickly promoted to much higher command positions than they were accustomed to. Many officers were also commissioned into the upper echelons of command directly from civilian life; they tended to gain their posts through family connections rather than any military training or ability. The few urban elite families who dominated Laotian society felt it advantageous to have family members or friends in key posts of the military establishment.[3] These officers showed more interest in politics or involvement in profitable illicit activities, rather than learning their trade. As a result, the FAR officer corps was riven by corruption and inefficiency further aggrieved by political divisions and even personal rivalries at all echelons of command. Both professional and personal jealousy was not unknown amongst Laotian higher Commanders, which resulted in endless internal squabbles, and little effort was made to coordinate their activities.

This situation was further complicated by a descentralized command structure, in which the FAR General Staff (French: État-Major Générale – EMG) in Vientiane served primarily an administrative function. Laos had a long-standing “warlord” tradition of local power-brokers, and consequently, real power was in the hands of the regional commanders (usually Colonels or Generals) who manned the military districts (or “Military Regions” – MR) in the provinces, which operated like autonomous fiefdoms. With the formation of the Mobile Groups (GMs) at each Laotian Military Region in the early 1960s, the MR Commanders’ influence was challenged by the growing power of the GM Commanders (Majors or Lieutenant-Colonels), who acted as junior “warlords”.[4][5][6][7] A high-echelon command position within a Military Region was dependent upon the influence of an urban elite aristocratic family who economically and politically dominated the MR. If a general was not a scion of one of these families, then he had to get their support in some other manner.[8]

Regional Commands[edit]

Laos was divided since 1955 into five military regions (Régions Militaires in French) roughly corresponding to the areas of the country’s 13 provinces.[9] The Military Regions were the basis of the warlordism culture that infected the ANL and the FAR high command.


By September 1961 the Royal Lao Armed Forces consisted of three conventional ground, air and naval branches of service. Their primarily roles were: guarantee the sovereignty of the King, ensure internal stability and security by maintaining the social and political order, and defend the Kingdom of Laos against external aggression. Placed under the control of the Ministry of Defense of the Royal Lao Government at the capital Vientiane, the FAR branches were organized as follows:

Elite formations[edit]

Training institutions[edit]

Prior to its independence in October 1953, Laos lacked almost completely a professional military school system – Officer, NCO and Staff schools, plus Technical and Branch training schools – for its Armed Forces, and relied heavily on foreign assistance to train its personnel. Beginning in the early 1950s, Laotian Officers and selected enlisted men were sent overseas to attend specialized courses and advanced schools, and this practice would continue throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. However, a small indigenous training infrastructure (initially run exclusively by the French) gradually began to take shape during the last years of the First Indochina War, and as the Laotian civil war progressed, it was expanded with the help of the American aid programs, with most of the training being carried out by U.S. advisors.

Lao Military Academy and Staff College[edit]

The first Laotian military schools were established by the French Union Army Command in 1952, with the creation at Pakse and Vientiane of two NCO training schools (French: École des Cadres), soon followed by a 'Reserve Officers Training School' (French: École des Officiers de Reserve).[10] First set up at Pakse, the latter institution was later transferred to Dong Hene in Savannakhet Province, which eventually became the Lao Military Academy.[11] A Staff and Command school, the 'Military Institution of Higher Learning' (French: Institut des hautes études militaires), was also established at the time in Vientiane.[12] At same time, Laotian student candidate officers (French: Aspirants) and senior officers were sent to France, and later the United States, to receive basic officer and advanced staff training in their respective Military Academies and Staff Colleges. At least ten Laotian Aspirants were sent to the prestigious Saint Cyr Military Academy (French: École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr) in France, whilst senior officers attended staff courses at the School of Advanced Military Studies (French: Centre des hautes études militaires) in Paris;[13] other Laotian officers received their staff training at the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In addition, a small number of Laotian naval officer candidate students (French: Eléves Officiers de Marine) and NCOs were also sent to France, in order to attend advanced Officer and NCO courses at the French Naval Academy in Brest.[14]

Airborne Training Centres[edit]

To train Laotian paratrooper battalions, airborne training centres were established by the French at Wattay Airbase just outside Vientiane in September 1948, followed later in February 1960 by Vang Vieng, located 17 kilometers (15,60 miles) from Vientiane, set up with the help of U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (Laos) advisors, and at Seno, near Savannakhet by French Military Mission in Laos advisers. A fourth Parachute School was briefly established by the Neutralists at Muang Phanh in 1961, but the Pathet Lao offensive held in early May 1964 forced the training staff to relocate to Vang Vieng.[15]

Commando and Infantry Training Centres[edit]

In the mist of the 1971 reorganization, two dual commando/infantry training centres were set up by the Americans at Phou Khao Khouai, north of Vientiane and Seno near Savannakhet for the Royal Lao Army (RLA) new strike divisions. A third one, the CIA-run PS 18 secret camp near Pakse in Champassak Province[16] was used for two RLA brigades being raised in the Fourth Military Region (MR 4).[17]

Foreign assistance[edit]

Throughout its existence, the Laotian Armed Forces received military assistance at different periods and lengths of time from several countries, including France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Thailand, the Philippines, Republic of China, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, and (briefly) from the Soviet Union.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Conboy and Greer, War in Laos 1954-1975 (1994), pp. 5-7; 13.
  3. ^ Anthony and Sexton, The War in Northern Laos (1993), pp. 11-13.
  4. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 12.
  5. ^ Conboy and Morrison, Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos (1995), p. 14.
  6. ^ Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis: The Laotian Crisis of 1960–1961 (1969), p. 17.
  7. ^ Anthony and Sexton, The War in Northern Laos (1993), p. 5.
  8. ^ Anthony and Sexton, The War in Northern Laos (1993), p. 70, note 47.
  9. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 4.
  10. ^ Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support (1981), p. 17.
  11. ^ Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support (1981), p. 19.
  12. ^ Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support (1981), p. 18.
  13. ^ Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support (1981), pp. 17-18.
  14. ^ Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support (1981), p. 18.
  15. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, South-East Asian Special Forces (1991), pp. 15-19.
  16. ^ Conboy, FANK: A History of the Cambodian Armed Forces, 1970-1975 (2011), pp. 275-276.
  17. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 46, Plate G2.


  • Bernard Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis: The Laotian Crisis of 1960–1961, Doubleday & Co., 1969. ASIN: B00JKPAJI4.
  • Kenneth Conboy and Don Greer, War in Laos 1954-1975, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1994. ISBN 0897473159
  • Kenneth Conboy and Simon McCouaig, South-East Asian Special Forces, Elite series 33, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1991. ISBN 1-85532-106-8
  • Kenneth Conboy and Simon McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75, Men-at-arms series 217, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1989. ISBN 9780850459388
  • Kenneth Conboy with James Morrison, Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos, Boulder CO: Paladin Press, 1995. ISBN 0-87364-825-0
  • Maj. Gen. Oudone Sananikone, The Royal Lao Army and U.S. Army advice and support, Indochina monographs series, United States Army Center of Military History, Washington D.C., 1981.
  • Timothy Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: United States Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955–1975, Columbia University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-231-07977-8
  • Victor B. Anthony and Richard R. Sexton, The War in Northern Laos, Command for Air Force History, 1993. OCLC 232549943.

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Kenneth Conboy, Kenneth Bowra, and Simon McCouaig, The NVA and Viet Cong, Elite 38 series, Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford 1992. ISBN 9781855321625
  • Kenneth Conboy, FANK: A History of the Cambodian Armed Forces, 1970-1975, Equinox Publishing (Asia) Pte Ltd, Djakarta 2011. ISBN 9789793780863
  • Khambang Sibounheuang (edited by Edward Y. Hall), White Dragon Two: A Royal Laotian Commando's Escape from Laos, Spartanburg, SC: Honoribus Press, 2002. ISBN 978-1885354143

External links[edit]