Transforming the Tatmadaw: the Burmese armed forces since 1988

Author/s (editor/s):

Andrew Selth

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 113

Before 1988, the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, suffered from many problems. Its major weapons and weapons platforms were obsolete, its logistics and communications systems were weak and operations were constantly hampered by a lack of essential supplies. While it could quell domestic political unrest and conduct limited counter-insurgency campaigns, it lacked the resources to perform most conventional defence roles. After taking over government in 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council undertook an ambitious programme to expand and modernise the armed forces. Since then, the Tatmadaw has almost doubled in size and acquired a wide range of new arms and equipment, mostly from China. This rapid expansion has placed the armed forces under considerable strain, however, and it will be some time before Burma's expanded order of battle is matched by a commensurate increase in its military capabilities. In addition, the Tatmadaw's continuing political role and lack of popular support raises serious questions about its professionalism and future cohesion.

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