Alternative Asean Network on Burma
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Overview [Top ^]

Most known arms transfers to Burma are legal, and some are even reported to the United Nations. Other transactions are murkier, as countries more sensitive to international opinion try to mask their activities.

The United States and the European Union maintain a tight embargo on the sale of arms to Burma’s military regime. Several other nations, such as South Korea, have less sweeping or informal sanctions. The US and European restrictions ban the sale and re-sale of virtually all military-related equipment to Burma. As a result, the junta has become the eager client of countries that are willing to supply almost any regime. In addition, arms and equipment from Western nations have often found their way into Burma, usually through third parties.

The regime has acquired new weapons systems from numerous countries, including China, Russia, India, Singapore, Pakistan, North Korea, Ukraine, and Israel. Most of the regime's arms have been imported from China. The junta imported US$3.5 billion in military goods from China between 1988 and 2006. Goods bought from China over the years have included armored personnel carriers, tanks, fighter aircraft, radar systems, surface-to-air missiles and short-range air-to-air missile systems. Russia comes in second at US$396 million, then Serbia, and Ukraine.

Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine all have large Cold War-era defense industries and leftover hardware. They are eager to unload aging equipment, and the SPDC is a willing buyer. Some weapons and supplies are bought through barter arrangements or come as gifts.

The regime’s army has acquired various anti-aircraft installations, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades. In addition, the army has bolstered its communications network. Radio and electronic surveillance systems have been installed at operational and tactical levels. The army has additionally acquired significant computer and software supplies from China, Singapore, and Israel—which is also believed by Western military analysts to have sold Burma laser-guided bombs.

By 1985, only about 50% of Burma’s Air Force aircraft could fly. Following the international embargoes on arms sales to Burma from Western governments, the regime negotiated with countries such as China and Russia to bolster their air defenses. In the early 1990s, the junta purchased aircraft from Eastern Europe.

Before 1988, Burma’s Navy’s fleet consisted of about 100 vessels, acquired mostly from the US and Britain, and most of which were second-hand and nearly a half-century old. In recent years, the regime has nearly doubled the size of its naval fleet, acquiring more sophisticated hardware and training from China, Pakistan, Russia, and the former Yugoslavia.

Burma is also expanding its own arms industry. In addition to small warships, arsenals are designing and producing assault rifles and mortars.

China [Top ^]

China has provided 90% of the regime’s military equipment since 1989.

China provided the regime with nearly 200 battle tanks of various types, more than 200 armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft weapons, and artillery. The SPDC also purchased from Beijing around 600 Chinese copies of early Soviet tanks. These tanks and fighting vehicles are backed up by a few hundred 155mm long-range heavy artillery guns, plus thousands of light guns, mortars, rockets and anti-aircraft missiles.

In the last two decades, the junta has purchased jet fighters from China. The regime purchased from Beijing 48 NAMC A-5C fighters, 14 Karakoum-8 jet assault and trainer planes, and a variety of other transportation and training aircraft. In 2000, the SPDC acquired 52 Chengdu F-7M Airguard fighters.

Pilots have reportedly complained about the performance and reliability of the Chinese-made jets. Most of the regime’s Air Force Chinese-made equipment is out-dated or out of warranty. A Chinese-made A-5 fighter jet, which was bought in 1994 with a five-year guarantee, crashed in December 2007 during a test flight near Mandalay. Since 1999, at least nine fighter planes of the Burmese Air Force have crashed. A Chinese made PT-6 fighter crashed near Myitkyina in Kachin State during a training session in May 2007.

Since 2001, there have been reports that China has helped upgrade the Shante Air Base, the country's main military airstrip, a few kilometers northeast of Meiktila, Mandalay Division. Media reports suggested Chinese aeronautical experts have in recent years made regular visits to the various air force training schools around Meiktila.

In 1998, the junta agreed to a deal with China to build a landmine factory just outside of Meiktila, which is reportedly still running.

China is still providing military arms to the regime. In July 2007, the regime stock piled trucks of dynamite and machine guns coming from China in the Northern Military Command Headquarters in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Most of the stocks were dynamite powder and machine guns such as M-21, M-22, and others secretly imported from China.

In November 2007, 21 artillery cannons entered Burma through Ruili on the China-Burma border. Between November and December 2007, 155 mm field-to-field fire cannons - Russian-designed copies manufactured in China – were transported from China to Burma. In addition, the Chinese police chief reportedly handed over to the SPDC equipment for detecting explosives and mines for use at Naypyidaw airport.

In January 2008, about 100 Chinese manufactured 'First Automobile Works' (FAW) military trucks arrived at Jiang Hkong on the China-Burma border. The six-wheel military trucks were the second shipment of a total of 1,000 trucks that the Chinese government sold to the SPDC. The first delivery of about 400 FAW trucks was made in December 2007.

In April 2008, over 50 Chinese-made military trucks were seen on the Sino-Burma border town of Ruili. The trucks are designed to tow artillery and transport military supplies.

Burma’s navy is also expanding, buying small combat vessels from China to complement ships being built in yards near Rangoon. In the 1990s, the regime acquired from China six Houxin guided missile patrol boats. Each vessel is armed with four C-801 anti-ship cruise missiles. The regime’s navy has also received from China 16 Hainan-class patrol boats and an undisclosed number of small gunboats.

The SPDC has also consulted with China on technical and strategic matters related to the navy. In 2001, with assistance from Chinese naval engineers, a new radar station was built on St Luke’s Island in Southern Burma, opposite Thailand’s Ranong province.

India [Top ^]

India has sought to enlist the regime’s cooperation in its long-running struggles against separatist groups in its Northeastern States.

In 2003, the SPDC purchased 80 75mm howitzers from India. Delhi is thought also to have supplied significant quantities of mortar and artillery rounds, as well as various types of anti-aircraft weapons, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers.

In January 2007, India said it would be supplying military hardware to the SPDC. Equipment ranged from light aircraft for surveillance, to helicopters, radars, sonars, and artillery among other armaments. However, military hardware such as T-55 main battle tanks, 105 mm light artillery guns, armored personnel carriers, and small naval vessels pledged to the SPDC have not yet been transferred since the pro-democracy “Saffron Revolution.”

According to military sources in Delhi, India has not halted the supply of military hardware promised to neighboring Burma but merely “slowed” its delivery. Plans to supply at least one Indian-made advanced light helicopter developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited were permanently shelved following intense diplomatic and commercial pressure from the EU. Various parts of the aircraft were supplied or made under license from several countries that impose arms embargoes on Burma. The package included a comprehensive fighter upgrade program that would include the transfer of the latest avionics, surveillance electronics and airborne radio equipment and radar manufactured by Bart Heavy Electronics Limited (BHEL).

In Mid-April 2008, trucks transporting military equipment including artillery shells, bullets, and guns secretly entered Burma from Moreh in India’s Northeastern State of Manipur. Citing military sources, the India-based newspaper Sangai Express said that the equipment was delivered as part of the trade deals reached between Delhi and the SPDC.

The SPDC also turned to India for acquiring warships, upgrading the country’s naval technology, and training in ship-building. In January 2006, Indian Vice Admiral Arun Pradesh met top junta leaders, including Than Shwe, reportedly to discuss upgrading the regime’s Navy using Indian technology.

Israel [Top ^]

Israel is considered to be a supplier of weapons and arms technology to the SPDC. Israel has assisted research and development programs for the SPDC Army and has provided military software, advanced electronic devices, and intelligence training. The regime has acquired air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs and sixteen 155mm howitzers from Israel in addition to other medium and small weapons, including anti-tank guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

A 2000 report by the London-based publication Jane's Intelligence Review detailed extensive alleged links, but the Israeli government denies any arms sales.

The SPDC’s September 2007 crackdown revived reports that Israel Military Industries Limited continued to maintain links with the junta. Israeli media reported that the Israeli army Galil rifle was produced by the regime’s Ka Pa Sa factory as the MA-1 rifle.

According to some reports, hundreds of Burmese who have been sent to Israel by the SPDC, supposedly for training in agricultural practices, have been receiving some sort of military instruction in the wake of the regime’s crackdown.

Japan [Top ^]

Japan has supplied the regime with undisclosed numbers of armored personnel carriers, light all-terrain vehicles, and components for military vehicles.

North Korea [Top ^]

Military items sold by Pyongyang are comparatively cheap, and North Korean arms tend to be based on tried and tested Russian and Chinese designs. As such, they are of a similar pattern to weapon systems already used by the regime. In addition, they are often at the same level of technical sophistication, making them easier to maintain and operate.

In 1990, the regime purchased 20 million rounds of 7.62mm AK-47 rifle ammunition from North Korea. In mid-1998, the junta purchased about 16 130mm M-46 field guns from North Korea. The frequent visits of North Korean freighters to Rangoon in recent years, and the secrecy surrounding their cargoes, have led to speculation that other deliveries of arms and military equipment have occurred.

The arrangements made for the sales of both the AK-47 ammunition and the 130mm field guns appeared to include a strong element of barter trade. Burma was, and remains, short of foreign exchange, but produces rice and other primary products for export. For its part, North Korea has a massive arms industry, and is happy to sell weapons to the junta.

In April 2008, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported that North Korea had been selling the SPDC multiple rocket launchers with a range of about 65 kilometers. The report said that “full-scale” exports of the weapons had been handled by an unnamed Singapore trading company.

Russia [Top ^]

The regime has acquired jet fighters, training planes, and assault helicopters in addition to radar and communication equipment. Moscow is also planning to build a nuclear reactor in Burma, and is reported to be training Burmese military personnel in nuclear science.

In 2001, the SPDC acquired from Russia 12 MiG-29 fighters and two dual-seat trainers—reportedly at a cost of US $130 million, of which half was to be paid up front, and the balance remitted over the next 10 years.

The regime’s Air Force flies dozens of simple but tough Russian multi-purpose helicopters adept at moving troops or attacking with machine guns and rockets. At the Meiktila airfield, Google Earth images have shown a number of what appear to be Russian Mi-17 helicopters.

Analysts believe that the junta is also negotiating for medium to long-range air-to-surface missiles—useful for ongoing counterinsurgency campaigns. In October 2007, the SPDC was reportedly interested in buying BUK-M1 and TOR-M1 missile systems from Russia to modernize its air defenses.

Supporting troop transports are 139 Soviet-designed T-72 main battle tanks, equipped with a 125mm cannon.

Serbia [Top ^]

Apart from buying twelve G-4 aircraft from Serbia, the regime is believed to have signed an agreement for the delivery of an undisclosed number of self-propelled howitzers.

The former Yugoslavia supplied the military regime with 12 SOKO G-4 Super Gale ground assault aircraft and provided training for the regime’s air force personnel.

The regime's navy also received PB-90 coastal patrol boats and tactical training.

Singapore [Top ^]

Singapore has assisted the regime’s military research and development programs, and the state-owned Chartered Industries of Singapore is building a military facility for manufacturing small-caliber ordnance. Singapore also supplies the SPDC with anti-aircraft weapon systems, ammunition, medium-size, and small arms.

South Korea [Top ^]

In 2001, seven South Korean companies including Daewoo International and Doosan Infracore (former Daewoo Heavy Industries) signed a contract worth US$133.8 million to provide technology and materials to the SPDC and help build an arms plant capable of making tens of thousands of shells per year for a variety of weapons including the 105 mm Howitzer and anti-tank weaponry. From 2002 throughout October 2006 the companies helped build a shell plant in Prome, Pegu Division, and exported 480 pieces of equipment and parts including material to produce shells. In addition, they dispatched Korean technicians to the site and transferred technologies by way of trial production of thousands of shell compartments making use of blueprints they obtained from the Agency for Defense Development in Korea.

Export of the equipment is banned by Korea, which has Burma on a blacklist.

Ukraine [Top ^]

In 2003, the SPDC purchased 50 T-72 tanks. In the same year, the SPDC ordered 1,000 BTR-3U armored personnel carriers based on an old Soviet design. In 2004, Ukraine delivered 50 of those light armored personnel carriers.

In April 2004, the SPDC signed a US$500 million deal with Ukrainian state arms company UkrspetsExport to build an armored personnel carriers factory a few kilometers outside Meiktila, Mandalay Division. The facility is designed over a 10-year period to receive about 1,000 70%-assembled BTR-3U armored personnel carriers. At the factory, Ukrainian technicians are geared to work with their Burmese counterparts to complete the assembly process and pass along knowledge about the vehicles.

The SPDC reportedly also acquired components for the BTR-3U armored personnel carriers and air defense equipment from the former Soviet republic.