Despite economic crisis and simmering social unrest, Burma’s military leaders have continued to purchase more arms and ammunition over the past decade. With over 300,000 soldiers, and no external threats, the generals are determined to expand and maintain the largest army in Southeast Asia.
Burma has begun manufacturing small arms, and possibly ordnance, using a prefabricated factory designed and built by Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS) in conjunction with Israeli consultants. The purpose-built factory of modular design was produced last year in Singapore before being dismantled after testing. It is intended to produce small arms and weapons up to 37mm in caliber, according to sources contacted by Jane’s Defence Weekly (JDW).
The plant is believed to be a first for CIS, its modular design allowing for future expansion. Israeli consultants who worked on the project are linked with Israeli Military Industries, although it is unclear whether they are current or former employees. The factory’s existence has yet to be formally announced, but documents obtained by JDW indicate that it was shipped from Singapore to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in mid-February aboard the Sin Ho, a vessel owned by the Singapore-registered company Lian Huat Shipping Co Pte.
The cargo weighed 413,341kg and was packaged in 36m by 12m containers, described in shipping documents as containing a “pre-engineered building system.” It is not known whether this represents the entire facility or whether other elements were shipped separately.
Myanmar Hong Leong Ltd, the shipment’s notifier, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a publicly-listed Singapore company. The consignee is listed as the Directorate of Defence Industries, Ministry of Defence, which is Myanmar’s state-owned arms and ordnance manufacturer. The factory’s design means that it may have been assembled within weeks, perhaps at Magway, around 400km north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. The facility may have been erected within an existing structure, such as an aircraft hangar or a warehouse.
The first item being produced is thought to be the EMERK-1, a local design available as either an assault rifle or light machine gun (LMG). These have recently begun to be issued to troops guarding sections of the Yadana pipeline project, Rangoon-based diplomatic sources have confirmed.
The EMERK-1, a bullpup configuration, was designed in 1995 by the army’s Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Corps along with 15 other prototypes.
There are some doubts whether this could have been achieved without foreign assistance. The assault rifle and LMG versions are almost identical, with stamped all-metal bodies and M16-type magazines — both are 832mm in length and have the same effective range and firing rate, given as 400m and 650 rounds per minute respectively. However, the light machine gun is 500g heavier at 4.5kg with an empty magazine.
Locally-based analysts previously believed that the gun was copied from the Austrian Steyr AUG assault rifle but it may, instead, be based on a Chinese shortened bullpup configuration assault rifle first unveiled during the Hong Kong handover last July.
Singapore has previously supplied the regime with weapons at a critical time and has also built a cyber-war centre in Rangoon capable of telephone, fax and satellite communications.
A decade ago — near the height of nationwide pro-democracy protests — Singapore shipped tonnes of ammunition, mortars and other war material to Burma.
The shipments were marked as coming from a subsidiary of Chartered Industries of Singapore - Allied Ordinance, Singapore.
Chartered Industries is the weapons arm of Singapore Technologies which supplied the regime with its highly efficient cyber-war centre.
The supplies were sent only weeks after the junta emerged following the retirement of the old dictator, Ne Win.
They included rockets manufactured under license in Singapore, but exported without authorisation from Sweden.
Only China is more important to the SPDC than Singapore, which has frequently defended not only its links to Rangoon, but the junta itself.
Last November, Singapore tried to water down a United Nations General Assembly resolution critical of the regime’s refusal to recognise the overwhelming victory of NLD in 1990 elections and widespread human rights abuses.
“Our position is different. We have concrete and immediate stakes,” argued the Singapore representative, Bilahari Kausikan, in a letter to the Swedish mission which drafted the resolution.