South Sudan Country Profile – Military / Security

Last updated: 12 November 2020

Official celebration in Juba a symbol of progress towards peace in South Sudan (UNMISS)

From Cia Factbook (Page last updated on October 09, 2020)

Military and security forces: South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF): Ground Force, Air Force, Air Defense Forces, Presidential Guard (2019).

Military expenditures:

  • 3.5% of GDP (2019)
  • 3.7% of GDP (2018)
  • 2.4% of GDP (2017)
  • 4.6% of GDP (2016)
  • 10% of GDP (2015)

Military and security service personnel strengths: the South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF) has an estimated 190,000 active personnel, including ground, air, and riverine forces; note – efforts by the government and the various rebel groups to form a unified national army have stalled (2019 est.).

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions: the SSPDF inventory is primarily of Soviet origin; South Sudan was under a UN arms embargo through May 2020; from 2010 to 2015, Russian and the United Arab Emirates were the leading suppliers of arms and equipment (2020).

Military service age and obligation: 18 is the legal minimum age for compulsory and voluntary military service; the Government of South Sudan signed agreements in March 2012 and August 2015 that included the demobilization of all child soldiers within the armed forces and opposition, but the recruitment of child soldiers by the warring parties continues; as of the end of 2018, UNICEF estimated that more than 19,000 child soldiers had been used in the country’s civil war since it began in December 2013 (2018).

Military – note: under the September 2018 peace agreement, all armed groups in South Sudan were to assemble at designated sites where fighters could be either disarmed and demobilized, or integrated into unified military and police forces; the unified forces were then to be retrained and deployed prior to the formation of a national unity government; all fighters were ordered to these sites in July 2019; some progress toward merging the various armed forces into a national army has been made; for example, in May 2020, South Sudan announced that it was graduating some unified forces at various training centers across the country, and in June the SSPDF incorporated some senior officers from the main opposition force, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army – in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) into its rank structure; nevertheless, progress has been slow, and as of August 2020 armed clashes continued to occur between government forces and armed militant groups.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has operated in the country since 2011 with the objectives of consolidating peace and security and helping establish conditions for the successful economic and political development of South Sudan; UNMISS had more than 18,000 personnel deployed in the country as of May 2020.

The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has operated in the disputed Abyei region along the border between Sudan and South Sudan since 2011; UNISFA’s mission includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, strengthening the capacity of the Abyei Police Service, de-mining, monitoring/verifying the redeployment of armed forces from the area, and facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid; UNISFA had about 4,000 personnel deployed as of March 2020 (2020).


Other information on South Sudan – Military / Security:

from Tarifa-rw and TRAC

South Sudan has joined the ranks of neighboring countries in the region by elevating its national army to a more professional force and walking away from its liberationist and rebel outfit image. The new formal name is South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and this brings an end to Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

  • South Sudan People’s Defense Forces. South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) is the official regular forces of GoSS, led by President Salva Kiir (Dinka). The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was renamed the SSPDF on 2 Sep 18. The SPLA came into being in 1983, and under Col John Garang, fought against the Sudanese government in Khartoum. At independence in 2011, it became the national armed forces for South Sudan, and in 2013, when the civil war began, forces loyal to Riek Machar broke off to form the SPLA-iO (in opposition), which continues to form the main armed opposition to the government. The SSPDF is an organized and structured military force with some shortfalls in Command and Control, discipline, and morale. It is organized according to the common force doctrine in divisions, brigades, battalions, and companies. The AOR of SSPDF is divided into Sectors covering all 10 states. With its main battle tanks, combat helicopters, and artillery, SSPDF has huge firepower advantages over Riek Machar’s SPLA-iO (mainly light infantry forces).​​​​​​​
  • Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition. The South Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A) is a political ethnic movement that contains both a political and military wing and is engaged in violent conflict with the South Sudanese Government. The SPLM/A leader is the former vice president of South Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar. Leadership struggles between Machar and the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, resulted in the formation of the SPLM/A as a breakaway group from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM/A calls for the restructuring of South Sudan’s government, the establishment of a federal system, judicial independence as well as public sector reform. Centre of Operations The SPLM/A strongholds are in the Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Eastern Equatoria regions.
  • National Security Service. The National Security Service (NSS) is South Sudan’s intelligence and counter-terrorism agency. The leading faction inside NSS consists of faithful Dinka followers of Salva Kiir Government. With NSS, the opposition of the government must deal with the permanent investigation, repressive measures, and suppression.  
  • South Sudan National Police Service. The South Sudan National Police Service’s (SSNPS) main tasks are traffic and road safety, community policing, and criminal intelligence. 
  • Presidential Guard. Presidential Guard (SSPDF Tiger Division). This division located in Juba is an SSPDF elite military unit (Dinka soldiers) and its main task is to protect President Salva Kiir. 
  • National Salvation Front. National Salvation Front (NAS), led by Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka is a militant group fighting against the Government in the Equatorias. 
  • Nuer White Army. A semi-autonomous militia mostly recruited from the Lou Nuer. It is typically not a standing force but can be mobilized by an organized force such as SPLA-iO, by community leaders in defense of towns or herds, or raiding other communities. The Nuer youth don’t necessarily pursue the same strategic objectives as the SPLA-iO. They are primarily motivated by revenge (killing Dinkas as a “payback”) and looting.
  • Arrow Boys. A series of self-defense groups in Western Equatoria first organized in reaction to the LRA. Many received international training and support and later rebelled against the Government of South Sudan under several different groups. ​​​​​​

SSPDF Assessed Areas Of Operation



These products are the results of academic research and intended for general information and awareness only. They include the best information publicly available at the time of publication. Routine efforts are made to update the materials; however, readers are encouraged to check the specific mission sites at https://unmiss.unmissions.org or https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/unmiss.

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