1.The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw Kyee in local language) is the land component of the Military of Myanmar. The Myanmar Army is the largest branch of the Armed Forces of Myanmar and has the primary responsibility of conducting land-based military operations. The Myanmar Army maintains the second largest active force in Southeast Asia after Vietnam’s Vietnam People’s Army. 2.The Myanmar Army has a troop strength around 492,000. The army has rich combat experience in fighting insurgents in rough terrains, considering it has been conducting non-stop counter-insurgency operations against ethnic and political insurgents since its inception in 1948. 3.The force is headed by the Commander in Chief (Army), currently Vice Senior General Maung Aye.
The highest rank in the Myanmar Army is Senior General, equivalent to Field Marshal position in Western Armies and is currently held by Senior General Than Shwe. The defence budget of the Myanmar Military is 7.07 billion US dollars. 4.Defence Policy of Myanmar Tatmadaw was formally declared in February, 1999. The declared policy outlined the doctrine of “total people’s defence” for the Union of Myanmar. Threats to the national unity, territorial integrity and sovereign independence of the Union of Myanmar are the most important security objectives and considered as threats to the security of state. In the process of formulating Defence Policy and Military Doctrine from a strategic perspective, Tatmadaw has undergone three phases.
5.First phase (post-independence/civil war era).The first phase of the doctrine was developed in early 1950s to cope with external threats from more powerful enemies with a strategy of Strategic Denial under conventional warfare. The perception of threats to state security was more external than internal threats. The internal threat to state security was managed through the use of a mixture of force and political persuasion. Lieutenant Colonel Maung Maung drew up defence doctrine based on conventional warfare concepts, with large infantry divisions, armoured brigades, tanks and motorised war with mass mobilisation for the war effort being the important element of the doctrine. The objective was to contain the offensive of the invading forces at the border for at least three months, while waiting for the arrival of international forces, similar to the police action by international intervention forces under the directive of United Nations during the war on Korean peninsula.
However, the conventional strategy under the concept of total war was undermined by the lack of appropriate command and control system, proper logistical support structure, sound economic bases and efficient civil defence organisations. At the beginning of 1950s, while Tatmadaw was able to reassert its control over most part of the country, Kuomintang (KMT) troops under General Li Mai, with support from United States, invaded Myanmar and used the country’s frontier as a springboard for attack against People’s Republic of China, which in turn became the external threat to state security and sovereignty of Myanmar. The first phase of the doctrine was tested for the first time in Operation “Naga Naing” in February 1953 against invading KMT forces. The doctrine did not take into account logistic and political support for KMT from United States and as a result it failed to deliver the objectives and ended in humiliating defeat for the Tatmadaw.
The then Tatmadaw leadership argued that the excessive media coverage was partly to blame for the failure of Operation “Naga Naing”. For example, Brigadier General Maung Maung pointed out that newspapers, such as the “Nation”, carried reports detailing the training and troops positioning, even went as far to the name and social background of the commanders who are leading the operation thus losing the element of surprise. Colonel Saw Myint, who was second in command for the operation, also complained about the long lines of communications and the excessive pressure imposed upon the units for public relations activities in order to prove that the support of the people was behind the operation. 6.Second phase (KMT invasion/BSPP era).Despite failure, Tatmadaw continued to rely on this doctrine until the mid 1960s. The doctrine was under constant review and modifications throughout KMT invasion and gained success in anti-KMT operations in the mid and late 1950s.
However, this strategy became increasingly irrelevant and unsuitable in the late 1950s as the insurgents and KMT changed their positional warfare strategy to hit-and-run guerrilla warfare. At the 1958 Tatmadaw’s annual Commanding Officers (COs) conference, Colonel Kyi Win submitted a report outlining the requirement for new military doctrine and strategy. He stated that ‘Tatmadaw did not have a clear strategy to cope with insurgents’, even though most of Tatmadaw’s commanders were guerrilla fighters during the anti-British and Japanese campaigns during the Second World War, they had very little knowledge of anti-guerrilla or counterinsurgency warfare. Based upon Colonel Kyi Win’s report, Tatmadaw begin developing an appropriate military doctrine and strategy to meet the requirements of counterinsurgency warfare.
7.This second phase of the doctrine was to suppress insurgency with people’s war and the perception of threats to state security was more of internal threats. During this phase, external linkage of internal problems and direct external threats were minimised by the foreign policy based on isolation. It was common view of the commanders that unless insurgency was suppressed, foreign interference would be highly probable, therefore counterinsurgency became the core of the new military doctrine and strategy. Beginning in 1961, the Directorate of Military Training took charge the research for national defence planning, military doctrine and strategy for both internal and external threats. This included reviews of international and domestic political situations, studies of the potential sources of conflicts, collection of information for strategic planning and defining the possible routes of foreign invasion..
In 1962, as part of new military doctrine planning, principles of anti-guerrilla warfare were outlined and counterinsurgency-training courses were delivered at the training schools. The new doctrine laid out three potential enemies and they are internal insurgents, historical enemies with roughly an equal strength (i.e. Thailand), and enemies with greater strength. It states that in suppressing insurgencies, Tatmadaw must be trained to conduct long-range penetration with a tactic of continuous search and destroy. Reconnaissance, Ambush and all weather day and night offensive and attack capabilities along with winning the hearts and minds of people are important parts of anti-guerrilla warfare. For countering an historical enemy with equal strength, Tatmadaw should fight a conventional warfare under total war strategy, without giving up an inch of its territory to the enemy. For powerful enemy and foreign invaders, Tatmadaw should engage in total people’s war, with a special focus on guerrilla strategy.
8.To prepare for the transition to the new doctrine, Brigadier General San Yu, the then Vice Chief of Staff (Army), sent a delegation led by Lieutenant Colonel Thura Tun Tin was sent to Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and East Germany in July 1964 to study organisation structure, armaments, training, territorial organisation and strategy of people’s militias. A research team was also formed at General Staff Office within the War Office to study defence capabilities and militia formations of neighbouring countries. The new doctrine of total people’s war, and the strategy of anti-guerrilla warfare for counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare for foreign invasion, were designed to be appropriate for Myanmar.
The doctrine flowed from the country’s independent and active foreign policy, total people’s defence policy, the nature of perceived threats, its geography and the regional environment, the size of its population in comparison with those of its neighbours, the relatively underdeveloped nature of its economy and its historical and political experiences. The doctrine was based upon ‘three totalities’: population, time and space (du-thone-du) and ‘four strengths’: manpower, material, time and morale (Panama-lay-yat). The doctrine did not develop concepts of strategic denial or counter-offensive capabilities. It relied almost totally on irregular low-intensity warfare, such as its guerrilla strategy to counter any form of foreign invasion.
The overall counterinsurgency strategy included not only elimination of insurgents and their support bases with the ‘four cut’ strategy, but also the building and designation of ‘white area’ and ‘black area’ as well. 9.In April 1968, Tatmadaw introduced special warfare training programmes at “Command Training Centres” at various regional commands. Anti-Guerrilla warfare tactics were taught at combat forces schools and other training establishments with special emphasis on ambush and counter-ambush, counterinsurgency weapons and tactics, individual battle initiative for tactical independence, commando tactics, and reconnaissance. Battalion size operations were also practised in the South West Regional Military Command area. The new military doctrine was formally endorsed and adopted at the first party congress of the BSPP in 1971. BSPP laid down directives for “complete annihilation of the insurgents as one of the tasks for national defence and state security” and called for “liquidation of insurgents through the strength of the working people as the immediate objective”.
This doctrine ensures the role of Tatmadaw at the heart of national policy making. 10.Throughout BSPP era, the total people’s war doctrine was solely applied in counterinsurgency operations, since Myanmar did not face any direct foreign invasion throughout the period. In 1985, the then Lieutenant General Saw Maung, Vice-Chief of Staff of Tatmadaw reminded his commanders during his speech at the Command and General Staff College. In Myanmar, during that time, out of nearly 35 million people, the combined armed forces (army, navy and air force) are about two hundred thousand. In terms of percentage, that is about 0.01 percent. It is simply impossible to defend a country the size of ours with only this handful of troops… therefore, what we have to do in the case of foreign invasion is to mobilise people in accordance with the “total people’s war” doctrine.
In order to defend our country from aggressors, the entire population must be involved in the war effort as the support of people dictate the outcome of the war. 11.Third phase (SLORC/SPDC era).The third phase of doctrinal development of Myanmar Armed Forces came after the military take over and formation of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in September, 1988 as part of armed forces modernisation programme. The development was the reflection of sensitivity towards direct foreign invasion or invasion by proxy state during the turbulent years of the late 80s and early 90s, for example: unauthorised presence of US Aircraft Carrier Group in Myanmar’s territorial waters during 1988 political uprising as evidence of an infringement of Myanmar’s sovereignty.
Also, Tatmadaw leadership was concerned that foreign powers might arm the insurgents on the Myanmar border to exploit the political situation and tensions in the country. This new threat perception, previously insignificant under the nation’s isolationist foreign policy, led Tatmadaw leaders to review the defence capability and doctrine of the Tatmadaw. 12.The third phase was to face the lower level external threats with a strategy of strategic denial under total people’s defence concept. Current military leadership has successfully dealt with 17 major insurgent groups, whose ‘return to legal fold’ in the past decade has remarkably decreased the internal threats to state security, at least for the short and medium terms, even though threat perception of the possibility of external linkage to internal problems, perceived as being motivated by the continuing human rights violations, religious suppression and ethnic cleansing, remains high. 13.Within the policy, the role of the Tatmadaw was defined as a `modern, strong and highly capable fighting force’.
Since the day of independence, the Tatmadaw has been involved in restoring and maintaining internal security and suppressing insurgency. It was with this background that Tatmadaw’s “multifaceted” defence policy was formulated and its military doctrine and strategy could be interpreted as defence-in-depth. It was influenced by a number of factors such as history, geography, culture, economy and sense of threats. Tatmadaw has developed an ‘active defence’ strategy based on guerrilla warfare with limited conventional military capabilities, designed to cope with low intensity conflicts from external and internal foes, which threatens the security of the state.
This strategy, revealed in joint services exercises, is built on a system of total people’s defence, where the armed forces provide the first line of defence and the training and leadership of the nation in the matter of national defence. It is designed to deter potential aggressors by the knowledge that defeat of Tatmadaw’s regular forces in conventional warfare would be followed by persistent guerrilla warfare in the occupied areas by people militias and dispersed regular troops which would eventually wear down the invading forces, both physically and psychologically, and leave it vulnerable to a counter-offensive.
If the conventional strategy of strategic denial fails, then the Tatmadaw and its auxiliary forces will follow Mao’s strategic concepts of ‘strategic defensive’, ‘strategic stalemate’ and ‘strategic offensive’. 14.Over the past decade, through a series of modernisation programs, Tatmadaw has developed and invested in better Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence system; real-time intelligence; formidable air defence system; and early warning systems for its ‘strategic denial’ and ‘total people’s defence’ doctrine.
Structure of Myanmar Army
15.The Army has always been by far, the largest service in Myanmar and has always received the lion’s share of the Defence Budget. [Working Papers – Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU] [Andrew Selth: Power Without Glory (ISBN-10: 1891936131)] It has played the most prominent part in Myanmar’s struggle against the 40 or more insurgent groups since 1948 and acquired a reputation as a tough and resourceful military force. In 1981, it was described as ‘probably the best army to fight insurgency in Southeast Asia, apart from Vietnam’s’. [Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 May 1981] This judgement was echoed in 1983, when another observer noted that “Myanmar’s Infantry is generally rated as one of the toughest, most combat seasoned in Southeast Asia”. [Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 July 1983] 16.
In 1985, a foreign journalist with the rare experience of seeing Burmese soldiers in action against ethnic insurgents and narco-armies was ‘thoroughly impressed by their fighting skills, endurance and discipline’. [Bertil Lintner, “Land of Jade”] Other commentators throughout that time characterised the Myanmar Army as ‘the toughest, most effective light infantry jungle force now operating in Southeast Asia’. [AsiaWeek 21 Feb. 1992] Even the Thais, not known to praise the Burmese lightly, have described the Myanmar Army as ‘skilled in the art of jungle warfare’. [The Defence of Thailand (Thai Government issue), p.15, April 1995] Thai soldiers readily acknowledge, albeit privately, the toughness and determination of their Myanmar counterparts. Despite its preoccupation with retaining political power, the Myanmar Army has never lost sight of its defence role, and over the past 12 years, it has implemented a wide range of measures which have significantly enhanced its military capabilities.
17.The Tatmadaw’s organizational and command structure dramatically changed after the military coup in 1988. The first army division was formed in the year 1966. It was the 77th Light Infantry Division (LID) as rapid reaction mobile forces for strike operations. In March 1990, a new Regional Military Command (RMC) was opened in Monywa with Brigadier Kyaw Min as commander and named North-Western RMC. A year later 101st LID was formed in Pakokku with Col. Saw Tun as commander. Two Regional Operations Commands (ROC) were formed in Myeik and Loikaw to facilitate command and control. They were commanded respectively by Brigadier Soe Tint and Brigadier Maung Kyi. March 1995 saw a dramatic expansion of the Tatmadaw as it established 11 Military Operations Commands (MOC)s in that month. MOCs are similar to Mechanized Infantry Divisions in western armies, each with 10 regular infantry battalions (“Chay Hlyin Tatyin”), a headquarters, and organic support units including field artillery batteries.
Then in 1996, two new RMC were opened, Coastal Region RMC was opened in Myeik with Brigadier Sit Maung as commander and Triangle Region RMC in Kengtung with Brigadier Thein Sein as commander. Three more new ROCs were opened in Kalay, Bhamo and Mongsat. In late 1998, two new MOCs were opened in Bokepyin and Mongsat. [WP 342. Australian National University] The most significant expansion after the infantry in the army was in Armour and Artillery.
Beginning in 1990, the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) procured 18 T-69II tanks and 48 T-63 amphibious light tanks from China. Further procurements were made, including several hundred Type 85 and Type 92 armoured personnel carriers (APC). By the beginning of 1998, Tatmadaw had about 100+ T-68II main battle tanks, a similar number of T-63 amphibious light tanks and several T-59D tanks. These tanks and armoured personnel carriers were distributed into five armoured infantry battalions and five tank battalions and formed the first Armoured Division of the Tatmadaw under the name of 71st Armoured Operations Command with its headquarters in Pyawbwe.
Strength and organization
18.By 2000, the Myanmar Army had reached some 370,000 all ranks. There were 337 infantry battalions, including 266 light infantry battalions. Although the Myanmar Army’s organisational structure was based upon the regimental system, the basic manoeuvre and fighting unit is the battalion, known as “Tat Yin” in Burmese, which comprised a headquarters unit; four rifle companies (“tat khwe”) with three rifle platoons (“Tat Su”) each; an administration company with medical, transport, logistics and signals units; a heavy weapons company including mortar, machine gun and recoilless gun platoons. Each battalion is commanded a Lieutenant Colonel (“du bo hmu gyi”) with a Major (“bo hmu”) as 2IC (Second in Command), with a total establishment strength of 27 officers and 723 other ranks.
Light infantry battalions in Myanmar Army have much lower establishment strength of around 500; as a result this often leads to these units being mistakenly identified by the observers and reporters as under strength infantry battalions. 19.With its significantly increased personnel numbers, weaponry and mobility, today’s “Tatmadaw Kyee” is a formidable conventional defence force for the Union of Myanmar. Troops ready for combat duty have at least doubled since 1988. Logistics infrastructure and Artillery Fire Support has been greatly increased.
Its newly acquired military might was apparent in the Tatmadaw’s dry season operations against Karen National Union (KNU) strongholds in Manerplaw and Kawmura. Most of the casualties at these battles were the result of intense and heavy bombardment by the Tatmadaw Kyee. Not only that Tatmadaw Kyee is now much larger than it was in pre-1988, it is more mobile and has greatly improved armour, artillery and air defence inventories.
Its C3I (Command Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) systems have been expanded and refined. It is developing larger and more integrated, self-sustained formations which should lend themselves to better coordinated action by different combat arms. The army may still have relatively modest weaponry compared to its larger neighbours, but it is now in a much better position to deter external aggression and respond to such a threat should it ever arise. The organisational tree is attached as annexure-A.
Commander in Chief (Army)
20.Until 1990, Myanmar Armed Forces has Chief of Staff system and Myanmar Army was led by Vice Chief of Staff (Army). In 1990, Myanmar Armed Forces was reorganized and all three branches of Armed Forces are now led by Commander-in-Chief.
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