Myanmar Navy’s weakest link is its air defences

Myanmar Navy’s weakest link is its air defences

There is one big problem with the Myanmar Navy that people easily forget but its hiding in plain sight.

Even on its most sophisticated warships and capital auxiliaries the Myanmar Navy lacks adequate air defence capabilities. Most of the air defence aboard its warships are of archaic nature, and comprise of rudimentary non-FCR controlled, manually operated gun based systems or CIWS, which has origins dating back to the early 1970s.

Currently three types of air defences are prevalent within the UMN fleet:

  • VSHORAD – Igla based pedestal mounted, non-FCR controlled. Range: 5km
  • AK-630 CIWS – Russian & Chinese manufactured. Range: 4km
  • Type 02/ZPU-pattern 14.5mm AAG – Manually operated heavy machine gun. Range: 1-2 km

Non-standard issue 37mm anti-aircraft gun are mounted on two Jianghu class frigates also. Those too are not integrated with the ships FCR.

Comparatively the Myanmar Navy would face aerial and surface-to-surface missile threats from the Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force if hypothetically there were to be a war.

The Bangladesh Navy is equipped with long range MBDA Otomat Mk II Block IV anti-ship missiles from Italy. The missile is capable of: re-attack, 3-D mission planning, coordinate attacks, capability to operate in littoral theatres, and attack with terminal evasive manoeuvres. GPS is added and so the weapon can attack also land targets.

However the most prevalent of the missiles are the C-802A anti-ship cruise missiles acquired from China. They equip most of the Bangladesh Navy’s frigates and corvettes. They too have a striking range of 180 km.

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Lastly, the short range C-704 anti-ship missiles can pack a deadly punch at sea against small to medium sized ships, which incorporate most of the Myanmar Navy’s fleet anyway. With a warhead of 130 kg and a high subsonic speed, the C-704 has a kill probability of 97.7% and can hit targets within 35 km range at a cruising altitude of 15-20 metres. This close range is especially deadly because it gives little reaction time for the targeted warships to react. Given most of the Myanmar Navy’s air defence systems are of less than 5km (maximum range) they can do very little in the face of salvoes from a group of fast attack craft armed with the C-704 SSMs.

The Bangladesh Navy is preparing to select a new long range anti-ship missile having at least 200 to 300 km range. Short listed are the ATMACA from Turkey, MBDA Otomat Mk II E and SSM-700K Haeseong from South Korea. The MBDA Otomat and ATMACA have the greatest chance of being selected for their own respective qualities to equip the Bangladesh Navy new generation guided missile frigates and corvettes.

Another equally important development is the attainment of maritime strike capabilities by the Bangladesh Air Force MiG-29BM fleet. While the fleet is small, it possesses the greatest aerial challenge for the Myanmar Navy because it is equipped with the supersonic Kh-31A anti-ship missile from Russia.

The Kh-31A can hit a target from 70 km away and is armed with armour piercing, 94kg HE shaped charge warhead that can wreak havoc on warships of up to 4,500 tons in displacement through sea skimming approach during terminal phase.

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In summation the Myanmar Navy will be extremely vulnerable to missile strikes by a mix of European, Chinese and Russian origin anti-ship missiles that can be delivered from warships and strike aircraft from long ranges. Together with a more sophisticated Electronic Warfare and integrated NATO-grade Tactical Combat Datalink network, the Bangladesh Navy is strongly poised to dominate the seas if push comes to shove during war with Myanmar.

The fix for the Myanmar Navy cannot be attained overnight. It involves tactical changes, training, acquisition of weapons/sensors, and integration and refitting besides a large cost that Myanmar with its current economies woes simply cannot overcome.

This is why Myanmar will try to fire the first shots from air and sea during any conflict with Bangladesh hoping to ensure enough damage so that the Bangladesh Navy remains ill-capable of launching its full array of capabilities against the Myanmar Navy at sea.

For Bangladesh, the interception of critical naval intelligence, particularly in relation to Myanmar warship deployments, positions, capabilities and supplies will be essential at all times to anticipate and plan ahead of its adversary.

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