The Irrawaddy

New Air Force Chief Has Risen Rapidly Through the Ranks

The leadership of Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, has seen frequent reshuffles in recent years, with more new blood and new faces being injected into the top ranks.

One of them is General Maung Maung Kyaw, who became the new commander-in-chief of the air force in January. Gen Maung Maung Kyaw replaced General Khin Aung Myint, who retired from the post.

In January, soon after his appointment, Gen Maung Maung Kyaw accompanied Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, in paying a courtesy call on President U Htin Kyaw. He worked closely with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on last month’s military drills on Hsinbyushin Island in the Irrawaddy Delta, the largest since 1997.

Gen Maung Maung Kyaw is widely tipped by defense analysts in Myanmar to be a likely candidate to move into an even more senior role eventually.

He is seen as close to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and is known to be a capable and experienced air force officer.

Gen Maung Maung Kyaw’s background also seems solid. He is the youngest son of General Kyaw Htin, who served as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the 1980s.

Kyaw Htin was close to former dictator Gen Ne Win. He joined the army in the 1940s and fought against the Japanese in World War II. Raised in Pyay, Kyaw Htin in his early days served in the famous 4th Burma Rifles, which was regarded as Ne Win’s most trusted and favored regiment. Many officers from the 4th Burma Rifles rose rapidly through the ranks of both Ne Win’s socialist government and the armed forces after Ne Win staged a coup in 1962.

Kyaw Htin resigned from the top army post in 1985 but continued to serve in the Burma Socialist Program Party until 1988 as deputy prime minister. He resigned along with Ne Win and died in 1996 at the age of 70.

His eldest son U Thant Kyaw served as deputy foreign minister in former President U Thein Sein’s administration.

Maung Maung Kyaw has been steadily promoted through the ranks to become Air Force chief. Previously, he served as commander of the Meikhtila Air Force headquarters. As Myanmar’s Air Force is planning to expand and upgrade its capabilities and capacity in coordination with the army and navy, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing saw Gen Maung Maung Kyaw’s potential.

Maung Maung Kyaw also accompanied the senior-general on overseas trips in 2017. They visited Israel together in 2015.

In 2017, observers noted that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is known to have political ambitions, appointed several new commanders to the top ranks.

Major-General Myo Zaw Thein, who served as chief of the Yangon Command, was promoted to lieutenant-general and became head of the military’s Bureau of Special Operations 5 (BSO-5). He is the youngest among the heads of the BSO.

Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun, former commander of BSO-5, became army chief of staff and Maj-Gen Myint Maw became head of the Naypyitaw Command. He previously served as principal of the Defense Services Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin.