Burma’s Missile Dream
covering burma and southeast asia
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COVER STORY

Burma’s Missile Dream


By AUNG ZAW AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5


North Korean missiles could become a major part of Burma’s military arsenal. (Photo: AFP)
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Over the past decade, Burma has been buying missiles from North Korea, China and Russia, and both Burmese and foreign defense analysts suggest that Burma has bought short and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).  

Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that since 2001 Burma has obtained low altitude surface-to-air missile systems from Bulgaria, SRBM air defense systems from Russia and countries in eastern Europe, and is thought to have purchased surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) from Ukraine, as well as multiple rocket launchers from China.

Defense analyst Maung Aung Myoe wrote in his 2009 book, “Building the Tatmadaw,” that Burma had appeared to acquire some 36D6 radar from Ukraine in late 2002. It is designed to detect air targets at low, medium and high altitudes, and to perform friend-or-foe identification.

Maung Aung Myoe also wrote that as early as 2003, Burma was in secret talks with North Korea to buy Hwasong (Scud-type) missiles.

The Burmese leaders became more serious about buying missiles and missile technology after a series of border skirmishes with Thai forces in 2001-2002. At the height of the tension, Thailand reportedly employed Suppression of Enemy Defense Systems (SEADS), before sending its sophisticated F-16 jet fighters into border air-space. Sources in the Tatmadaw admitted that communication lines between front-line troops and command centers were severely disrupted.

The Burmese leaders reportedly do not trust their eastern neighbor, and well-informed sources inside the Tatmadaw said that Burma worries about a proxy war, possibly backed by a marine invasion by a foreign power. Burma has since installed fiber-optic communication systems to counter future use of SEADS.

When US, British and French warships hurried to Burmese waters to deliver relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta in 2007, the regime refused them entry. However, it discovered it could barely mobilize naval ships and jet fighters, let alone its air defense system.

During their visit to Pyongyang six months after Cyclone Nargis, Shwe Mann and top leaders were given a briefing on air defense and radar systems to be installed in southern Burma.

According to Maung Aung Myoe, the Tatmadaw has acquired Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) for defense, while jet fighters and missiles would be used for both the middle and outer defense zones. The new air defense systems have been deployed in Naypyidaw and along the Thai-Burmese border.

The author said the Burmese armed forces appeared to focus on two different types of air defense missions in Burma: the air defense of key political and military installations, and battlefield air defense.

Tunnel Vision

Burmese leaders are thought to be seriously considering hiding the new radar systems and missiles. Since the early 2000s, The Irrawaddy has reported rumors and news of tunnel building in central Burma.

Military sources said new tunnels around Naypyidaw and in central Burma would be used as bunkers for the central command, and to hide missiles, jet fighters and radar equipment. The secret report revealed that Burma is interested in building yet more underground facilities.

Late Prime Minister Gen Soe Win, a protégé of Than Shwe, was interested in tunnel warfare, and officers who attended the National Defense College studied tunnel warfare and defense. However, it is thought that the Chinese, who remain a major arms supplier to the junta, have counseled that tunnel warfare is less relevant in modern warfare.

Though photos of tunnels published in exiled and international media drew international attention recently, their purpose has to be verified. Currently there are 12 hydropower projects scheduled for construction. These include the Paunglaung hydropower project near the new capital, and the largest in the country, the Ye Ywa hydropower project 50 km (31 miles) southeast of Mandalay.

It is difficult to distinguish whether the tunnels were for military purposes, or for hydropower, until unsolicited photographs and video of a tunnel construction site were posted on news web sites including the Democratic Voice of Burma, Yale Global online and The Irrawaddy.

It is safe to assume that some of the tunnels are for military purposes and are now operational. The secret report mentioned the building of command posts in the tunnels, and it verifies that the regime plans to build underground military facilities in Shan State and central Burma.

Some Burmese defense analysts think the junta has already prepared emergency escape routes in Naypyidaw in case of war. Burma’s army leaders are not planning to flee, however, but to fight back by using guerilla warfare and launching a “people’s war” in central Burma or from Shan State. Should such a war break out, the regime also plans to mobilize its mass organizations—the fire brigades and civil services—to defend the nation. (See: The Irrawaddy “Than Shwe’s The Art of War” Mar—Apr, 2009 - Volume 17 No.2

During the 1988 student uprising in Rangoon that ended with a bloody military crackdown, a US fleet was spotted near Burmese waters.



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Moe Aung Wrote:
05/08/2009
One perhaps unintended consequence of the junta's arms race, in naval, air defense and nuclear capability, may be the neglect of the troops on the ground, some of the army units already having to forage for themselves. Add to that the commonplace exploitation and mistreatment by the officer class of the rank and file personnel, including their families, it can become an explosive combination.

Political agitation among the army rank and file must continue unabated in order to win them over, thus improving the odds in favor of the people for a good fighting chance, once the sparks begin to fly round the next bend. We shall overcome and we must overcome.

Nathaniel John Wrote:
03/08/2009
Senior General Than Shwe is buying the defense missiles with the money that is gained from selling natural gas and other mineral resources. It is not for peaceful usage or for the citizens of Burma to gain electricity. He believes that the US would come and bomb Naypyidaw. The US has no intentions of taking over Burma. What has Burma got, practically nothing for the US to invade Burma. All the natural resources have been exploited by the junta and its band of thieves, most especially Tay Za, Chit Khaing, Asia World Maung Maung, etc. These guys are hand in gloves with the junta because it suits their pockets. This shows that the junta is making all-out efforts to stay in power. The junta does not care for the people nor for the country, even though they say they do. In practice, it is the junta and their close cronies that are profiting from the sales of Burma's natural resources. Burma at the very moment has slumped in its economy, social, health, education level.

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