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Myanmar Makes All Of Its Rocket Artillery

February 14, 2023
Via Myanmar state media.

Southeast Asia’s most troubled country is still in the grip of a junta obsessed with national prestige. The widespread indifference towards the ongoing civil war has also served the Tatmadaw’s ends: fresh evidence reveals it has continued a program to build up long-range precision ordnance and, eventually, strategic weapons. At a parade on January 4 to mark the country’s formal independence in 1948 the armed forces showed off its achievements, whether historical or recent. The addition of six mobile rocket artillery systems never seen before is an important milestone as these are armed with the biggest missiles the Tatmadaw have ever fielded. (See above.)

The local production of rocket launchers and their ammunition in Myanmar’s state-owned military-industrial sector has been noted since the 1990s. It was North Korean assistance that served as both conduit and partner to what is now a substantial effort. The 6×6 trucks seen in the capital Naypyidaw on January 4 each had elongated beds to support a quartet of missile containers. The missiles and the transporters feature multiple clues about Myanmar’s alliances. The vehicle itself is of the “Miltruk” brand that’s based on Chinese HOWO models. The launcher’s appearance is bespoke, having a circular base common among North Korean rocket artillery systems, but with a layout and munition type comparable to the popular system exported by Norinco known as the WS-series. Sudan, Thailand, and Türkiye all field the same rocket artillery system under different names. There’s also a strong resemblance to the Pakistani Nasr ballistic missile.

Myanmar’s domestic production for rocket artillery spans small 107mm launchers, the familiar 122mm launchers for Soviet vintage “Grads,” then the North Korean 240mm caliber (also produced in Iran), and now what looks like 300mm missiles with accurized warheads–the small canards at the tips of the missiles help stabilize their flight. The need for such a powerful caliber is baffling since Myanmar faces no threat of invasion. The civil war that began in 2021 after the coup d’etat has spread across the country’s interior but doesn’t even threaten the capital and seat of government. The sole justification for assembling these launchers and their missiles, whose maximum range could reach 90 kilometers and perhaps 120 km depending on their motor, propellant quality, and flight characteristics, is the Tatmadaw imagine a foreign invasion that’s only defeated by mass artillery and precision fires.

A troubling pattern that may soon emerge is the Tatmadaw establishes a “rocket force” or similar branch whose responsibility is to maintain and operate long-range or strategic missiles. Should this happen it means local factories have the expertise and production line for even larger missiles that are improved and evolved through “families” of variants. The risk this poses to Myanmar’s perceived rivals–Bangladesh and Thailand–are enormous as these countries must adjust their diplomacy so that the threat posed by Naypyidaw’s missile arsenal is diminished. This is where North Korea enters the picture as an organizer and supplier for a semi-clandestine missile production effort going back to the 2000s. A trail of journalism is the best reference when examining the relationship but until today the details are muddled. What’s clear is Naypyidaw, just like Pyongyang, is embracing its pariah status and looks inclined to deterrence rather than peaceful compromise within its regional community and the rest of the world. At this stage the Tatmadaw could have specialist units operating Scud-series missiles separate from the “tactical” rocket artillery being fielded. But it’s just as plausible the Tatmadaw have a schedule for introducing new missile types and their launchers including “tactical” surface-to-surface missiles as well as liquid-fueled and solid-fueled missile types later on.

It’s clear the Tatmadaw’s love for martial pageantry highlights its failure to win back the citizen’s trust. A coalition of rebel militias, including at least two separatist factions, have stretched the army thin. Although the ground forces’ numbers appear substantial on paper their losses for the past two years are dire. It’s all the more baffling why colorful parades to advertise an industrial base that impoverishes the state is given such importance. The Tatmadaw are eager to advertise their success in assembling combat vehicles and warships, along with a diverse and very lethal air force, but the national economy is the worst performing in the ASEAN bloc and lags behind the entire region.

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