How strong is Myanmar's military?

Myanmar’s military today is far more equipped than it was in the 1990s. It received some of the most advanced weapon systems, fighter jets, ground attack helicopters, heavy battle tanks, mobile artillery guns fitted with computerized fire control systems, infinite quantities of small weapons, spare parts and ammunition from China and Russia throughout 1990s and 2000s. Some weapons were also acquired from Italian and Ukrainian suppliers in 2011 and 2012. 

Although Myanmar’s current defence budget in papers is just over US$2 billion, the actual spending goes beyond US$3 billions in real terms. The military runs several industries and receives profits in hundreds of millions from there. Every year the military spends around US$400 millions for developing new weapon systems.

Myanmar's army is headed by a Commander in Chief. The highest rank is Senior General, equivalent to Field Marshal position in western armies. The post is currently being held by Min Aung Hlaing. Myanmar army uses the battalion as the basic maneuver formation. However it prefers conducting operations at the company level. The battalions, like the British system, are grouped into regiments for morale and administrative purposes. It included the Burma, Light Infantry Regiment, Burma Rifles, Kachin Rifles, Chin Rifles, Shan Rifles and Kayah Rifles. Most of these regiments were ethnically integrated in 1983. A battalion is organized into four rifle companies of three platoons, plus a support company with Mortar, MMG, and RCL platoons, and an administrative company. A battalion consists 27 officers and 723 ORs.

In the early 2000’s, Myanmar’s military leaders set a goal to become a self-sufficient and respected military force in the region. The process is very much underway. Myanmar apparently has one of the largest naval shipyards in the region. Frigates, OPV and missiles equipped FAC are being developed from that shipyard.

Myanmar locally assembles 600 BTR 3 U APCs and 200 MT-LB MsH IFVs. It also manufactures K 8 under license from China. The country lunched chemical weapons programs in early 1980s but did not continue it after 1984. Though it is believed that the military still holds a stockpile of chemical weapons and occasionally uses it on the ethnic rebels.

From 2012, Myanmar government has increased emphasize on its air defence capability. It signed a contract with China in November 2013 on acquiring four air defense missile system including KaiShan 1A and Hongqi-10. Myanmar is apparently the only country China agreed to sell KaiShan 1A to. Myanmar's air force currently have 30 F-7M, 6 FT-7S, 22 A-5M, 16 MiG-29A, 8 MiG-29UB, and 12 K-8's. Additionally, it has 10 Super Galeb G4's, 17 Swiss Pilatus PC-7 and 10 PC-9's. The F-7M's recently received upgrades from Israel.

Myanmar was a secluded country for a long time. From 1962 to 2011, the country was ruled by a military junta and was isolated from rest of the world. The first general election in 20 years was held in 2010. This was hailed by the military rulers as an important step in the transition from military governance to a democratic system. An ex-chief won the votes and formed the government which is still at office. Main opposition party, National League for Democracy, boycotted the election but maintained a smoothing relation with the rulers afterwards. Since that election, Myanmar is gradually emerging from the international isolation phase into an open space with assistance from its key ally China.

The constitution however still shields the military passively. According to the 2008 constitution, a significant quarter of seats in both parliamentary chambers will be reserved for the military and interior, defence and border affairs ministerial posts will be held by serving army generals.

Myanmar is preparing to hold the next general elections in 2015. Main opposition group National League for Democracy is likely to win a major portion of the seats. But whatever the case, the army will continue to play vital roles in calling the big shots.

Under the present government, military spending in Myanmar has been cut significantly. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, military spending stands at 12% of the budget, following annual reductions from 19% in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. However it is still higher than health and education sectors combined. Though proportion of government expenditure on the military is reducing, its amount continues to increase in real terms.

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Rahat Zaman said…
Good one, Wasim. Keep it up.

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