The Myanmar Armed Forces, known to Myanmar natives as the “Tatmadaw,” consist of three main branches: the army, the navy, and the air force. When Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was under military rule, its armed forces–the army in particular–were an active part of citizens’ daily lives. Myanmar’s armed forces have since become more oriented toward national defense. Myanmar’s military is supported by several auxiliary police forces, most notably the Myanmar Police Force. These auxiliary forces are not part of the military, but have the power to perform investigations that may be taken over by the military.
The Myanmar Army is the largest of Myanmar’s military forces. In fact, it is the second largest armed force in Southeastern Asia, ranking only behind the Vietnam People’s Army in size. Its current Commander-in-Chief is General Soe Win. The Myanmar Army was created in 1948, when Myanmar gained independence from Britain. It actively governed Myanmar until 2011. The army no longer rules the country, but maintains the power to draft young adults for two-year service in the event of a national emergency. Men between the ages of 18 and 35 and women between the ages of 18 and 27 are all subject to the draft. The Myanmar Army currently has approximately 350,000 active members.
The army’s principal duty is to defend the country through land-based operations. Its forces are specially trained in counter-insurgency tactics at a variety of military facilities in Myanmar. Since its creation, the modern Myanmar Army has been given the task of putting down rebellions throughout the country. The Myanmar Army is well-known for its discipline and toughness and is equipped with rifles, machine guns, tanks, artillery, and missiles. Many countries have provided the army with equipment, including the United States and the United Kingdom; however, Russia and China have supplied it most heavily.
Myanmar’s navy consists of approximately 19,000 men and women and is commanded by Admiral Nyan Tun. Until the late 1980s, it did not play as much of a role as the army or air force and was not heavily involved in counter-insurgency missions, although it sometimes delivered arms and additional equipment to Myanmar’s other armed forces. Its primary role was to patrol fisheries, rivers, and limited areas of coastline. It now has over 122 vessels, many of which are from China, and actively patrols areas further away from the mainland. Since the expansion of its navy, Myanmar has found itself in boundary disputes with India and Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s navy has been involved in several controversial attacks since its expansion. Three of these occurred in 1998 alone. In one instance, members of the navy killed three to five Bangladeshi fishermen. That same year, Myanmar’s naval forces killed 59 people for unlawfully gathering wood on Christie Island. Several days later, naval forces killed 22 Thai fishermen whose boat had drifted near the same island.
In 2008, a cyclone caused up to 25 of Myanmar’s naval ships to sink. The exact number of naval personnel who died remains unknown.
The Myanmar Air Force was created in the 1950s with the help of the United Kingdom. Its role has always been to aid the army in counter-insurgence missions, although it also monitors the trafficking of opium and performs rescue and relief missions in cases of disaster. Until 1988, the Myanmar Air Force worked with outdated American and French equipment. It has since acquired newer aircraft, most of which it has received from China. The air force has also acquired planes and helicopters from the United States, Poland, and Russia, among other nations. Its fleet vessels are used for attack, transport, and training purposes.
The Myanmar Air Force has approximately 23,000 members. Its bases are scattered throughout Myanmar. Its work is mainly focused within the country, although it occasionally sends aircraft just beyond Myanmar’s borders. Its current Commander-in-Chief is General Myat Hein.