Neighbourhood Rivals

Bangladesh, Myanmar rapidly modernising their armed forces for different purposes

Prasun K. Sengupta

Two of India’s neighbours—Bangladesh and Myanmar—are presently engaged in hectic military force modernisation efforts aimed at acquiring three-dimensional warfighting capabilities, albeit for different reasons. While Bangladesh officially adheres to the policy of ‘friendship with all and malice towards none,’ Myanmar has been arming its armed forces (Tatmadaw) for both combatting a flown-blown civil war and acquiring conventional deterrence against its regional rivals Bangladesh and Thailand.

Bangladesh’s Type 035 Ming-class SSK

The Bangladesh Navy (BN) has witnessed phenomenal growth in the past three decades, evolving into a truly three-dimensional navy capable of maintaining an effective posture across the full spectrum of any conflict at sea. When Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, the BN comprised only two armed riverine-patrol boats.

Today, its inventory stands at more than 100 warships and aircraft and some 22,000 personnel. Bangladesh has a 710 km-long coastline along the Bay of Bengal with the principal ports of Chittagong and Mongla, and having settled its maritime boundaries with Myanmar in 2012, and India in 2014 via international arbitration, a sovereign claim over an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1,18,813 sqkm. Bangladesh also has one of the largest inland water transport networks in the world, covering a total length of some 24,000 km with river ports at Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chandpur, Bhairab, Barisal, Chittagong, and Khulna, and minor 21 inland river ports. The BN’s establishments and assets are spread over three regions: the Dhaka Naval Area, the Chittagong Naval Area, and the Khulna Naval Area.

The Naval HQ is located in the country’s capital Dhaka and includes the establishments BNS Haji Mohsin, BNS Sheikh Mujib and the Naval Unit Pagla. The main naval bases are located in Chittagong, 250km south-east of Dhaka, Khulna, 270 km south-west of Dhaka, and Kaptai, 60 km east of Chittagong. A new base, BNS Sher-e-Bangla, is under construction in Patuakhali in southwestern sector of Bangladesh. It will become the BN’s largest naval base with ship-berthing and aviation facilities. A separate submarine base, BNS Sheikh Hasina, is also under construction at Pekua near Kutubdia Island. The BN’s training establishments are the Bangladesh Naval Academy, BNS Issa Khan in Chittagong; the New Entry Training School, and the School of Logistics and Management in Khulna located in BNS Titumir, and BNS Shaheed Moazzam at Kaptai, in the Rangamati Hill District.

The BN procured two refurbished ex-PLA Navy (PLAN) Type 035G Ming-class diesel electric submarines (ex-PLAN 356 and 357) from China for USD 193 million in early November 2016. On November 14 the same year, the BN officially took delivery of the two submarines in a ceremony held at the Liaonan Shipyard in Dalian, China. The two submarines reached Chittagong Port on December 22. They were service-inducted on 12 March 2017, after being christened BNS Nobojatra S-161 and BNS Joyjatra S-162. They were subsequently berthed at the Issa Khan Base, Patenga, in the southeastern port city of Chittagong.

BNS Umar Farooq F16 FFG

On the same day, Bangladesh’s Prime Miniter Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of a dedicated submarine base (named after her) in Pekua in the coastal city of Cox’s Bazar along the Kutubdia water-channel. Built by China’s Poly Technologies Inc (PTI), this base, being built a cost of USD 1.21 billion, was commissioned into service on March 30 this year. This base can berth up to six submarines and eight warships. Dhaka is also constructing a new naval base in Patuakhali in Barisl district that will have submarine berthing and operation facilities to ensure the security of Payra seaport in southern Bangladesh. In the last 14 years, a total of 31 warships, including four guided-missile frigates, six guided-missile corvettes, four large patrol craft, five patrol craft and two training ships were added to the BN’s fleet.

The Bangladesh Air Force (BAF), meanwhile, has acquired land in Sylhet district’s Syedpur area for establishing an airspace surveillance radar, which will likely be the RAT 31 DL/M radar to be supplied by SELEX Sistemi Integrati, a subsidiary of Italy’s Leonardo Group. The BAF had earlier commissioned its Barisal Radar Unit (using a RAT 31 DL/M radar) and Helicopter Simulator Training Institute at BAF Base Bashar on February 15, 2021. The Leonardo Group was selected by the BAF in June 2019 from amongst five bidders—Thales Raytheon System of France, PTI and CETC of China, and US-based ANPC. The RAT-31DL/M includes a fully integrated SIR-M secondary monopulse radar with a maximum range up to 250 nautical miles. As for future procurements, the BAF has zeroed in on the Eurofighter Typhoon, with 16 expected to be ordered in future (see FORCE 2022, pages 50-51).

Myanmar Air Force’s Su-30 SME

The Myanmar Navy’s No.71 submarine base, established in 2007, is located at the Danya Wady naval base, 4 km east from coastal Kyaukphyu town in Rakhine state. Its first diesel-electric submarine to be service-inducted was the 3,000-tonne Type 877EKM ex-INS Sindhuvir (refurbished by the MoD-owned and Vizag-based Hindustan Shipyard Ltd), which has since been renamed UMS Minye Theinkhathu. This submarine was showcased during the Myanmar Navy’s ‘Bandoola’ fleet exercise on October 15, 2020, the same day India’s external affairs ministry announced that India had gifted the submarine to the neighbouring country. A supervisory crew of the Indian Navy is training its Myanmarese counterparts to operate this submarine. On December 24, 2021, the Myanmar Navy commissioned an ex-PLAN Type 035G Ming-class submarine, which was named UMS Minye Kyaw Htin. This submarine has a displacement of 2,100 tonnes, 76-metre length and 7.6-metre beamwidth, a submerged speed of 18 knots and an operating depth of 300 metres.

The Myanmar Air Force commissioned new aircraft during its annual Air Force Day event at Meitkila air base on December 15 last year. Among the types on static or flying display were two of six new Su-30SME heavy multi-role combat aircraft, six China-delivered and AVIC-built FTC-2000G tandem-seat light combat aircraft and two Kamov Ka-28PL anti-submarine warfare helicopters from Russia. Other platforms on static display included a new Y-8F-200 transport aircraft from AVIC, a refurbished Chengdu FT-7G operational conversional trainer and four K-8W tandem-seat primary trainers. Russia had agreed to sell the six Su-30SMEs in January 2018, following a visit by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu to Myanmar. The first two Su-30SMEs were delivered in March 2022.



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