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
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.
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
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
Burma is also expanding
its own arms industry. In addition to small warships,
arsenals are designing and producing assault rifles
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
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
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
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
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.
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
India has sought to
enlist the regime’s cooperation in its long-running
struggles against separatist groups in its Northeastern
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 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 has supplied
the regime with undisclosed numbers of armored personnel
carriers, light all-terrain vehicles, and components
for military vehicles.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
Export of the equipment
is banned by Korea, which has Burma on a blacklist.
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