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Military


Myanmar - Army

Beginning as a light infantry force, the army is the largest and by far the dominant branch of the nation's armed forces. By virtue of their relative numbers, army officers filled most position in the integrated ministry staffs and held most national political and administrative assignments.

Envisioning a union in which formerly separated peoples would be joined in a framework providing for a substantial degree of diversity, Thakin Aung San gained Shan, Chin, and Kachin agreement to join with the interim Burmese government. Karens declined to do so; Burman-Karen animosities had been inflamed by colonial policies that granted Karens a separate voting roll in the national election and had recruited Christian Karens into the Burma Army to put down Burman-led rebellion.

To meet the numerous challenges to its authority, at independence the Burmese Government originally had a total military and civil police force of some 40,000, an army of 23,000 men, and a miniscule air force and navy. Karen and PVO defections, however, and the immobilization of some Karen units as a result of Karen-Burman strife, reduced these regular army and police figures. The army and military police were organized along British lines and were supplied with British equipment. The Anglo-Burmese Treaty provided for British military advisers who, however, did not have much success in developing the Burmese army into an efficient and effective force. There were no tactical units higher than a battalion, and no heavy weapons. Most army troops were scattered about the country in small garrisons, and the police were even more thinly distributed. The government undertook in late 1948 to raise five new army battalions, through revival of the pre-war Burma Auxiliary Force, recruited from all races in Burma. Enlistment was slow, owing to popular apathyand the absence of strong government support.

In addition, and by contrast, the government vigorously recruited at least 22,000 auxiliary police drawn from every part of Burma, but composed of followers of the Socialist Party. The government pressed hastily armed civilians into service. These forces were raised despite strong objections from both the Burmese Army Commander in Chief and the head of the British Military Mission, who feared that the levies would become a private army of the Socialist Party, designed to suppress all political opposition. Recruitment, command, and training of these levies were under the direction of Socialist functionaries, a fact that seemed to justify these fears, even though at least some of the Auxiliary Union Military Police (AUMP) were under thecommand of the armed forces Commander in Chief. The larger number were under Home Office (Civil) control. The total military strength of army, police, and auxiliaries was su?icient to maintain the government in power, but inadequate to restore a reasonable degree of law and order.

A little less than one half of the Burmese Army was composed of Karens, Chins, and Kachins. These troops, primarily interested in military careers, were the most effective personnel in the military forces. They had been the backbone of practically all government offensive operations except where their own people were involved. Purely Burman units, in contrast, were subject to political influences in varying degrees and possessed little martial spirit. They had been used chiefly for garrison duty in relatively quiescent areas.

Essentially a light infantry force, the army -- totaling 163,000 in early 1983 -- was the largest and by far the dominant branch of the nation's armed forces. By virtue of their relative numbers, army officers filled most positions in the integrated ministry staffs and held most national political and administrative assignments. The battalion was the basic maneuver formation, although divisional structures were present, mainly as command organizations. Battalions were organized into four rifle companies with supporting mortar, machine gun, recoilless rifle, and administrative units. Artillery and armored units were deployed separately as necessary. Battalion strength was officially set at 750 officers and other ranks, but in practice most had a strength of some 500 or less.

The army has retained something of a regimental system under which battalions were grouped primarily for morale and for administrative purposes. These included the Burma Regiment having some 90 battalions, the Light Infantry Regiment having about 10 battalions, plus the Burma Rifles, the Kachin Rifles, the Chin Rifles, the Shan Rifles, and the Kayah Rifles, all having between one and six battalions. Despite their names, regiments were ethnically integrated as of early 1983. Operationally, in 1983 the army was organized into six light infantry divisions of 10 battalions each, two armored battalions, some 85 independent infantry battalions, four artillery battalions, one combination antitank and artillery battalion, and one antiaircraft battery.

Prior to 1988, apart from the army's self-appointed political role, it had been primarily occupied with internal security roles including the counter-insurgency operations against the various Communist, ethnic separatists, and narcotics organizations. There were few heavy weapons or armored vehicles, and what the army had, suffered from age, lack of spare parts, and reduced ammunition supply. The logistic and communication systems suffered similarly as well.

Officially the army's equipment inventory in early 1983 included Comet medium battle tanks, Humber armored cars, Ferret scout cars, 25-pounder field guns, 76mm and 105mm howitzers, 81mm and 120mm mortars, 6- and 17-pounder antitank guns, and 40mm and 3.7-inch antiaircraft guns. Many of these systems, particularly the tanks, armored cars, and field guns, would be considered obsolete or even antiquated by most of the world's armed forces and hence presented special maintenance and performance problems. That many were kept in functioning order was a testament to the skill and inventiveness of the army's maintenance personnel, who have long had the task of making do with what little was available. For light arms, the army mainly relied on West German- and Italian-designed rifles and machine guns made in Burma.

Before 1988 the Burma Army's heavier equipment was obsolete, its logistics and communications systems were very weak, and operations were constantly hampered by shortages of transport, heavy weapon ammunition, and other essential supplies. The SLORC's massive procurement program has since increased and updated material inventories. Most of these purchases came from China, although increasingly equipment is coming from Pakistan, Poland, Israel, Singapore, Portugal, North Korea, Russia, Belgium, and several other countries.

In an effort to modernize the Burma Army and increase its conventional military capabilities, the SLORC has acquired a large number of new tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, towed artillery pieces, air defense systems, and infantry weapons. Most have come from China. While still not state of the art, these arms purchases have significantly upgraded the army's order of battle. Its mobility has also been greatly increased by the purchase of transport aircraft from China and medium-lift helicopters from Poland and Russia. Efforts are being made to upgrade command, control, and communications capabilities.

The army ran a variety of training schools for its personnel. Most basic training was given at unit depots located throughout the nation. Several specialized and advanced training schools were located at the Bahtoo training facility near Taunggyi. These included the Combat Forces' School, the Noncommissioned Officers' School, and the Artillery and Armor School. Also at Bahtoo were the Animal Transport Training School for those charged with caring for the mules and horses used to transport goods and the Command and General Staff College for middlegrade officers. Various corps, such as signals, engineers, supply, and ordnance, maintained training schools elsewhere in the nation.



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