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Military Structure

Most maneuver units in Myanmar's Army are somewhere between under-manned and badly undermanned, with far fewer troops assigned than would be expected based on their notional Tables of Organization and Equipment [TOE] or the manning levels of foreign counterpart units. The authoritative orbat.com reports that "Generally battalions are 200 strong as against an authorized TO of about 750 (TO = 500 for Light Infantry Battalions), but often are no more than company size of even just a couple of platoons", going on to note that "We have no good explanation for the Armys creating new units instead of filling up existing ones".

The explanation would seem to be, not that the units are badly under-manned, but that the Army as a whole is seriously over-officered. In the US military, a battalion would be commanded by a Lt. Colonel, while a company would be commanded by a Captain. The same is true in the army of Myanmar, except that the Lt. Colonel is commanding a company sized unit, and the Captain commands a platoon sized unit. In a country that has known nothing other than military rule for half a century, creating command billets and promotion opportunities for officers is an important element in maintaining political stability.

The command of the armed forces was channeled downward from the State Council, whose chairman was the nation's president, through the Council of Ministers to the Ministry of Defense, which functioned in the dual capacity of a government ministry and a joint integrated military headquarters. The ministry was headed by the nation's highest ranking military officer, who served concurrently as minister of defense and as chief of staff of the defense services. As such, he exercised supreme operational command over all three military services, and his office in the ministry served as a general headquarters for the establishment as a whole. The chief of staff was assisted by three vice chiefs of staff--one each for the army, navy, and air force-who were commanders of their respective services as well as deputy ministers of defense.

The combined defense services staff had three major components: the general staff, the adjutant generals' department, and the quartermaster general's department. There were also special staffs for the directorates of Procurement, Comptroller of Military Accounts, Inspector General, Defense Services Intelligence, and People's Militia and Social Relations. Additional directorates corresponded to functional corps, such as medical services, judge advocate general, and ordnance.

The top BSPP organization within the ministry was the Defense Services Organizing Committee, which oversaw party activities in all three services. It exercised jurisdiction over a network of party organizing committees paralleling the armed forces structure from the level of the separate service headquarters down to the platoon level. At the ministry level, the organizing committee was headed by a permanently assigned chairman, who was assisted by a small staff. Selected top officers assigned to the ministry served simultaneously as committee members. Lower level committees were usually chaired by commanders of their respective units.

Logistics matters for all three services were handled by the quartermaster general's staff, except for major purchases, which were handled by the director of procurement. Supply was often complicated by lack of funds, long supply lines, and the time lag in deliveries from abroad. Distribution was hampered by insufficient transportation capacity and by the nation's sparse road network. Supplies for day-to-day operations were decentralized down to battalion level. Storage depots for other items were scattered throughout the country, but reserve materiel and equipment were limited. Units in the field often operated without lines of supply, purchasing food and requisitioning shelter, transportation, and labor from local sources.

  • 3 "Strategic Commands" (role unidentified)
  • 6 "army group" commands (Bureau of Special Operations)
  • 7 Regional Operations Commands
  • 14 Military Regional Commands
  • 12 Light Infantry Divisions
  • 26 Military Operations Management Commands
  • 34 Tactical Operations Groups (brigade)
  • 10 Artillery Commands (equivalent to 2 artillery battalions each)
  • 2+ Armored Commands (equivalent in theory to an armored division)

  • 266+ Light Infantry Battalions
  • 70+ Mechanized Infantry Battalions
  • 20 tank battalions
  • 50 artillery battalions
  • 10 air defense battalions, including 4 SAM
  • 55 engineer battalions
  • 27 signal battalions
  • 12 Military Intelligence battalions
  • Logistics battalions

There are at least three "Strategic Commands", whose precise role remains unidentified. There are also seven Regional Operations Commands (ROC, or Da Ka Sa in Myanmar) commanded by a Brigadier General, which appear to be similar to separate brigades in Western Armies, each consisting of 4 Infantry "battalions" (Chay Hlyin Tatyin). With financial, administrative and judicial authority, the ROCs appear to be some type of political administrative echelon, since the Military Operations Command and Light Infantry Division commanders do not have judicial authority.

Orbat.com notes that "The Army has an exceedingly complicated command structure." There are probably several reasons for this complexity. Myanmar's Army is an army at war, and wartime armies are requently economical with the truth when it comes to detailing details of their organization and chain of command. Second, Myanmar's Army probably doubled in size in the 1990s, and the command structure grew in response. A third consideration is the probability that the command structure is deliberately left in a state of fluxe and turmoil to facilitate central control and frustrate conspiracies among subordinate commanders.

A fourth factor is undoubtedly the obscurity of Myanmar's command and control doctrine. In the American military, four types of command relationships are possible. Combatant command [COCOM], is the broadest command authority. Operational control (OPCON) includes the authority to organize commands and forces and to employ those forces to accomplish assigned missions, but it does not include authoritative direction for logistics or matters of administration, discipline, internal organization, or unit training (as would COCOM). Tactical control (TACON) is authority to direct control of administrative movements or maneuvers within the operational area as necessary to accomplish missions or tasks assigned. Support is a command relationship that is a two-way responsibility in which a supported command receives assistance from another command.

In Myanmar, possibly the Bureau of Special Operations and Regional Military Commands, which appear to be task organized have Operational control (OPCON) of assigned battalions, while Divisions and Military Operations Commands may have Combatant command [COCOM], as these command echelons appear to have habitually associated battalions for which they would have responsibility for matters of administration, discipline, internal organization, or unit training.



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