India to step up military cooperation with Myanmar

July 30, 2013: As part of the overall policy to counter China's strategic moves in the region, India now plans to assist Myanmar in building offshore-patrol vessels (OPVs) as well as further ramp up military training for Myanmarese armed forces.

The measures to bolster bilateral military ties were discussed in the talks between visiting Myanmar Navy chief Vice Admiral Thura Thet Swe and Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi, Army chief General Bikram Singh and defence secretary R K Mathur, among others, on Monday.

"Myanmar is one of our closest neighbours. We share a land border as well as maritime border with them," said Admiral Joshi, adding the Indian Navy was looking forward to take the "existing excellent relations to the next level".

Sources said India has agreed "in principle" to Myanmar's request for assistance in building OPVs, which are likely to be constructed at an Indian shipyard, as well as almost doubling the number of vacancies for training Myanmarese Navy officers and sailors from the existing around 50. Similar will be the case for soldiers and air force personnel, with plans also afoot to train Myanmarese pilots to fly the Russian-origin Mi-35 attack helicopters, as part the overall "capacity building and enhancement" plan.

There is, however, worry in the Indian defence establishment that "not enough" is being done swiftly to meet the long-pending requirements of Myanmar, the only ASEAN country which with India shares borders.

India has supplied some military hardware and software to Myanmar, which ranges from four Islander maritime patrol aircraft and naval gun-boats to 105mm light artillery guns, mortars, grenade-launchers and rifles. But Myanmar has asked for much more, including radars, sensors and sonars for its naval frigates and corvettes.

It was only in the late-1990s that India undertook a hard-nosed strategic U-turn in its policy towards Myanmar, after several years of supporting Suu Kyi's democratic movement, when it found China had assiduously forged deep links with the country to step into the vacuum.

Since then, India has got some help from Myanmar to flush out Indian insurgent groups operating from its soil. Incidentally, warships from India and Myanmar also conducted a joint exercise and coordinated patrol in the Bay of Bengal for the first time in March this year.

Myanmar's importance for India can be gauged from the fact that defence minister A K Antony, foreign minister Salman Khurshid and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, who is the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, among others, have all visited Myanmar since last November.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had himself visited Myanmar in May 2012, the first such top-level visit from India in 25 years, to lay the foundation for greater bilateral economic cooperation. The two countries had then inked a dozen MoUs, from an air services agreement and border area development pact to a joint trade & investment forum and extension of a $500-million line of credit to Naypyitaw.


The Times of India