South Sudan has embarked on a program to transform the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the country’s preindependence guerrilla army, into a professional, conventional force by 2017. However, the success of this transformation strategy, referred to as Objective Force 2017, is contingent on a number of factors, including the absence of major conflict with Sudan, South Sudan’s ability to recover from the impact of this year’s austerity budget and the military’s ability to undertake a significant reduction in force.
The precise size of the SPLA is not known, but is estimated to be as high as 210,000 soldiers. As Objective Force 2017 establishes the need for the SPLA to have a parade of 120,000, as many as 90,000 soldiers will need to be demobilized in the years to come.
A handful of initiatives, some already established and others in the planning stages, are intended to facilitate efforts to rightsize the SPLA. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the war with Sudan was signed in 2005, some of the SPLA’s surplus manpower has already been channeled toward other organized services, such as police, prisons, fire and wildlife.