The foundations of the Royal Lao Armed Forces were laid on 11 May 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 – 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).
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. These officers indulged in political manoeuvres or involved themselves 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 (French: Groupements mobiles – 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". 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.
Laos was divided since 1955 into five Military Regions (Régions Militaires in French) roughly corresponding to the areas of the country's 13 provinces. The Military Regions were the basis of the warlordism culture that affected 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:Royal Lao Army (French: Armée Royale du Laos – ARL)Royal Lao Air Force (French: Aviation Royale Laotiènne – AVRL)Royal Lao Navy (French: Marine Royale Laotiènne – MRL)Royal Lao Army AirborneMilitary Region 5 CommandosCommando Raider TeamsSPECOMSpecial Guerrilla Units (SGU)Directorate of National Coordination
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.
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), later merged into a single institution, the Reserve Cadres Training Centre (French: Centre de Formation des Cadres de Réserve – CFCR), soon followed by a Reserve Officers Training School (French: École des Officiers de Reserve). First set up at Pakse, the latter institution was later transferred to Dong Hene in Savannakhet Province, which eventually became the Lao Military Academy. A Staff and Command school, the Military Institution of Higher Learning (French: Institut des hautes études militaires), and an Accountancy School (French: École de Comptabilité) were also established at the time in Vientiane.
A Laotian Armed Forces training Centre (French: Centre de Formation des Forces Armées Laotiénnes – CFFAR) was established by the French at Khang Khai in March 1960.
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.
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 was used for two RLA brigades being raised in the Fourth Military Region (MR 4).
In December 1961, the Neutralists set up an Armoured Training Centre at Phongsavang with the help of NVA instructors, though it was later shut down by the Pathet Lao offensive of May 1964.
A flying school was first established by the French at Wattay Airbase in January 1955 to train Laotian pilot cadets, later transferred to Seno Airbase and placed under the control of the RLAF's Air Training Command (ATC).
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 North Vietnam and the Soviet Union.
Laotian student candidate officers (French: Aspirants) and senior officers were first sent to France, and later Thailand and 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; 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 – EOMs) were also sent to France, in order to attend advanced Officer and Petty Officer courses at the French Naval Academy in Brest.
Paratrooper and 'Commando' units were sent overseas to receive advanced airborne and reconnaissance training, with Laotian pupils attending the Scout Ranger course at Fort William McKinley in Manila, the Philippines, manned by Philippine Army instructors; others attended Para-commando courses manned by Indonesian Army instructors at their airborne training centre located at Batujajar, near Bandung, Indonesia. Further airborne and Ranger training was provided by the Royal Thai Army (RTA) at their Special Warfare Centre and Recondo School co-located at Fort Narai in Lopburi Province, Thailand, while Guerrilla and 'Commando' techniques were taught by the Royal Thai Police (RTP) Police Aerial Resupply Unit (PARU) at their Phitsanulok and Hua Hin training camps. In late 1969, 76 RLA students were dispatched to the RTA Kokethiem training center in Thailand for training in M-706 armoured car tactics and maintenance.
Royal Laotian Air Force cadets initially attended flight courses at the École de l'air in France, though Laotian pilots and air crews were later sent for 0-1, UH-1, T-28, EC-47, AC-47, and C-123 training to South Vietnam and Thailand. Most of the advanced courses and specialized training of Laotian combat pilots was conducted by American advisors of Detachment 1, 56th Special Operations Wing at Udorn, U-Tapao, and Takhli airbases in Thailand, while others were dispatched to attend observer courses at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam.