Myanmar - Navy

The Burma Navy is divided into the Major War Vessels Command, controlled directly from the War Office in Rangoon, and five (possibly six) regional commands. The latter assets are usually placed under the operational control of the appropriate regional commanders. Air force assets are assigned to the navy as required. There is no separate naval air arm or coast guard.

Functioning primarily as a fisheries protection and coastal and riverine patrol fleet in the early 1980s, the navy has also been a victim of tight budget constraints. Major craft comprised one ex-British frigate of World War II vintage and four corvettes-two of which were ex-United States craft commissioned in the 1940s and two, products of the nation's own boatyards in 1960. Light forces included some 41 river and coastal patrol craft and approximately 36 gunboats, ranging in displacement from 49 to 381 tons. The navy operated an additional 12 coastal patrol craft for the People's Pearl and Fishery Corporation for use against piracy, smuggling, and illegal fishing.

The navy's strength was some 7,000 as of early 1983. By 2007 the Myanmar Navy had 16,000 men and women, and operated more than 122 vessels. The main naval dockyard was located at Rangoon, where facilities could handle most ship repair and where virtually all naval supplies were stored and issued. The Naval Training Center was at Syriam near Rangoon. The fleet was assigned on a regional basis out of commands at Sittwe, Bassein, Rangoon, and Moulmein.

Before the creation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1988, the Burma Navy was small, ill-equipped and crippled by its dependence on foreign logistics. As a consequence, it was confined to patrolling Burma's inland waterways and coastal fringes. Also, the navy held only a token position in the military regime which, under various guises, had run the country since the 1962 coup. Yet the navy has always been, and remains, an important factor in Burma's internal security. This view appears to be shared by the new generation of military leaders.

While it possessed four old corvettes, the Burma Navy before 1988 consisted mainly of relatively obsolete, thinly armored, and lightly armed motor boats. These were used to patrol Burma's inland and coastal waters, primarily to support army counter-insurgency operations, provide fisheries protection, and combat smuggling. The Burma Navy had no blue-water capability, no real capacity to defend itself against submarines or major surface vessels, and no defense against attack from the air.

Before 1988 the Navy was barely able to support the army in its counter-insurgency role and was primarily patrolling the inshore waters against smugglers and poachers. The Navy had only a few obsolete corvettes, some small patrol boats and support ships. Recent acquisitions include three PB90-class (Yugoslavia) inshore patrol boats, 10 Hainan- class coastal patrol boats and at least two guided missile patrol boats from China. Reports indicate that China may sell three guided missile frigates and a small number of minesweepers. Burma's own shipyards may have produced several fast-attack patrol boats.

Since 1988 the SLORC has undertaken a major naval modernization program, including the purchase of more than 20 patrol boats (mainly form China) and the construction of a number of fast attack craft in Burma. The Chinese vessels will provide Burma with its first anti-submarine and air defense potential. The navy has also added a tanker and a number of supply ships to its fleet.

The navy has experienced dramatic growth under the SLORC, with the fleet almost doubling between 1988 and 1998. China agreed to support an ambitious military expansion and modernisation program launched by the SLORC in 1989. By 1992, China had delivered six Hainan class offshore patrol boats. The regime's navy eventually received from China 16 Hainan-class patrol boats [other sources report only 10] and an undisclosed number of small gunboats. 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 seems to envisage a greatly expanded external defence role for this arm of the armed forces. Since 1988 the fleet has almost doubled, with the addition of aa many as 20 new warships from China. With Chinese help, Burma has also built fast patrol craft and two corvettes.

Burma could have a blue water capability for the first time in its history, providing the SLORC's ambitious naval modernization program is successful. In the 1990s, the regime planned to purchase Chinese frigates to help curtail incursions in Burmese waters by fishing vessels from neighboring countries, but at the time the regime could not afford to buy them even at "friendship prices." The junta is also acquiring technical know-how on the construction and repair of the Burmese fleet's warships, and some unconfirmed reports suggest that North Korea has proposed to sell Burma a small submarine.

By 2005 the Burma Navy had significantly upgraded and its scope of operations has expanded to include its new Chinese patrol boats reportedly carry anti-ship missiles in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. The Navy does have a riverine capability. Ships from 13 navies across the Asia-Pacific region took part in anti-piracy and counter- terrorism exercises in the Indian Ocean. Burma has taken part in the exercises since 2003. The annual multi-national exercise, named "Exercise Milan," took place from Feb. 4-8, 2010. Burma's navy worked alongside a patrol boat from the Australian navy during a four-day naval war game exercise hosted by India. In 2009, Bangladesh, Burma, and India were involved in maritime boundary disputes over their respective sovereignty in the Bay of Bengal. In October, Bangladesh claimed its maritime boundary before the United Nations courts, under the arbitration of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982. The dispute amongst the three countries limits further exploration of resources in the disputed area. At the end of 2008, the situation intensified when Daewoo International Corp. of the Republic of Korea, which has a gas sale and purchase agreement with Burma, started oil and gas exploration in the disputed maritime zone, and Bangladesh and Burma each stationed naval warships and troops along their coastal borders.