China Provides Submarine to Myanmar Junta

By The Irrawaddy 27 December 2021

Myanmar last week took possession of a submarine from China at a ceremony in Yangon presided over by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The commissioning ceremony was timed to coincide with the 74th anniversary of the founding of the Myanmar Navy.

Named Min Ye Kyaw Htin, the Ming-class Type 035 diesel electric submarine is intended to serve a dual function: as a stopgap attack submarine, and as a training vessel. China is one of the key suppliers of military hardware to Myanmar’s armed forces, including jet fighters and naval ships. Myanmar has also purchased advanced jet fighters from Russia and Pakistan.

This additional sign of China’s support for the junta will no doubt anger Myanmar citizens, who have protested Beijing’s failure to condemn the Feb. 1 military takeover.

Large anti-China protests broke out in Yangon and elsewhere in the wake of the coup, and some 13 or 14 Chinese-backed factories in Myanmar’s commercial hub have been damaged or targeted in arson attacks. Pro-democracy protesters have also called on the public to oppose all Chinese projects and boycott products made in its northern neighbor.

Myanmar began studying the possibility of buying a submarine in 2005; two years later it sent naval officers to countries friendly to the then-ruling regime, including India, for training.

In 2019, Myanmar bought a second-hand submarine from India, which is now in operation. The Soviet-manufactured Kilo-class submarine, renamed Min Ye Thein Kha Thu in Myanmar, was refurbished by Indian state-run defense shipbuilder Hindustan Shipyard. With a maximum operating depth of 300 meters and a top speed of 18 knots, the vessel was Myanmar’s first submarine.

The purchase did not go unnoticed in Beijing: In October last year the Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times took a jab at both Myanmar and India over the issue.

In an article headlined, “Hyping China influence in India – Myanmar submarine deal attempts to provoke: experts”, it opined, “India wants to get rid of a retired and outdated submarine, and Myanmar needs one to train its soldiers.”

The article goes on to cite Chinese analysts’ doubts over the functionality of the submarine, which India insists will serve the Myanmar military until at least 2030 after refitting.

Ridiculing India and Myanmar, the Global Times asserted that the submarine “served in [the] Indian army for more than 30 years, entering the end of a submarine’s life—and the refitting only gave it refurbishment, but did not upgrade its system and facilities.”

According to military officers who spoke to The Irrawaddy in 2020, cost was always a major issue; wary of blundering into an inappropriate purchase, Myanmar’s generals made a thorough study of the submarines on offer from various countries.

In the late 2000s, Myanmar short-listed four “regime friendly” countries, Russia, China, India and North Korea, and dispatched delegations to study the possibility of purchasing a discounted—or, as the Global Times put it, “retired and outdated”—submarine.

The deal to purchase the Ming-class submarine was reached in secret with Beijing over the past year. In the past, Myanmar is believed to have balked at a Chinese condition that its technicians be allowed to maintain any vessels it provides. It is not clear whether this condition was attached this time.

Myanmar’s navy plans to expand its fleet of both surface vessels and submarines. It now has the capability to build frigates and has begun doing so.

Having purchased two submarines, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, is now in negotiations with Russia to acquire one of its Project 636 Improved Kilo submarines, according to informed sources.

During last week’s commissioning ceremony, Major Yan Naing Tun, the commanding officer of the Min Ye Kyaw Htin, told junta media Myawady that the addition of the new submarine would allow the Myanmar navy to engage in “three-dimensional warfare”.

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