As Myanmar’s navy takes possession of its first submarine and its largest surface warship in back-to-back big-ticket acquisitions, the close of 2019 marks a striking watershed in the emergence of the Southeast Asian nation as a seriously engaged player in the strategically shifting currents of the Bay of Bengal.
The Myanmar Navy’s (MN) coming of age as a blue-water force with region-wide reach also underpins a campaign of maritime diplomacy that aims to rehabilitate the image of a military better known internationally for massacre and rape of its own ethnic minorities.
The two year-end acquisitions are significant primarily though as military assets in a maritime domain marked by growing strategic fluidity, as China increasingly asserts its rising naval power in an Indian Ocean region traditionally seen by India as its own sphere of influence.
Over the past decade, Myanmar has reacted with a steady but little noticed build-up of naval power that has hinged on a growing fleet of surface combatants, notably frigates and missile corvettes that are mostly the product of an ambitious program of home-grown military ship-building.
The MN already operates five frigates with a further three projected to join the fleet over the coming years.