Improvised Weapons of the Myanmar PDFs

February 7, 2022

Well folks, we’ve reached 50,000 subscribers on YouTube and I’ll admit I can’t quite believe it. Thank you so much for your support and for watching my ramblings.

And as when I got to 40,000 I said I’d do the video subject most voted for, that was:

Josuah Glise with “…more insurgent themed stuff”.

So, more insurgent stuff it is.

However, I’m going to hone the focus in and combine it with a report on what is currently happening in Burma, also known as Myanmar, as it has been far too long since I did a report on that country.

 

As a simplified background to those who may not know, Burma has basically been in a state of civil war since the late-1940s. Most of this has been between the powerful central military, known as the Tatmadaw, and various ethnic groups that generally live on the periphery of the country.

Please note, I have done quite a few video’s – principally my Long War series – explaining the broader situation and the histories of some of the Ethnic Armed Organisations, shortened to EAOs.

So, if you want to know more, I’d suggest checking some of those out.

But trying to cut down what is a multi-faceted and complicated situation to its simplest, a major reason for the conflict is racial. The Tatmadaw is dominated by the majority Bamar peoples, who populate the main urban centres in the central plains of the country, with much of the war previously being focused on the ethnic minorities.

The army has never been averse to using extreme violence against the Bamar people when they have expressed discontent against military rule, but up until a year ago, the pattern was largely of guerilla warfare and steady ethnic cleansing against the ethnic minorities on Burma’s peripheries, with occasional violent crackdowns on any internal dissent.

There was briefly hope on the horizon with the appearance of some democratic reforms in the 2010s, which saw the notional sharing of power between the military and political parties, principally that of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

This façade collapsed on the 1st of February, 2021, when the Tatmadaw seized full control of the government once again and arrested Suu Kyi and any of her ministers not able to flee. But this time the military found themselves at odds no longer just with the EAOs, who had generally been very wary of the supposed reforms, but also with the vast majority of the Bamar people.

For the first time in generations, they had had hope that real reform was on the cards, only to see it suddenly snatched away.

They reacted initially with protests. When the military responded with force, killing hundreds, it did not have the result that it had previously of breaking up the protests and cowing the population. Instead, the protests continued and, as more violence was done against them, some began to arm themselves to respond.

In such a tightly controlled country as Burma, this meant little more than using slingshots and air guns. But in the face of an army that had automatic weapons and trained in brutality by decades of ethnic warfare, this met with the expected results.

As a result, more young Burmese realized that the only way they could both protect their communities from the military and eventually hope for government reform was to take up arms and organize themselves. This has led to the People’s Defence Forces, or PDF, being created, who have been contesting the Tatmadaw’s grip on the country.

For the first time in generations, the army now faces being challenged not just in the ethnic areas, but in Burma’s heartlands.

Many of the PDFs have formed alliances with the EAOs, who have provided training and some equipment, but for many access to weapons is difficult and we are beginning to see a great deal of innovation being employed by the anti-military forces.

Firearms were initially limited to whatever could be smuggled in or acquired from army and police deserters, but that was never going to prove sufficient. So, people started making their own.

Initially, these were crude, essentially single shot muskets using black powder and with barrels made from a bored-out piece of steel. But the resistance fighters have started to show their innovation by employing the latest technology.

In terms of small arms, this has graphically been illustrated by the increasing presence of an intriguing weapon.

In an arms cache seized by the Tatmadaw were several FGC-9 Mk.2s. This was followed up by pictures on social media of PDF members apparently equipped with them.

These semi-automatic guns fire 9mm parabellum and, most notably, are made on 3D printers. The design is available online and it seems that at least one individual in Burma, possibly more, are now producing them for use by the PDF and other anti-government forces.

It might not have the range of abilities of an assault rifle, but the FGC-9 is a perfectly serviceable light carbine and its simple production method, which I believe also includes a rifled barrel, means that it can be manufactured right in the heart of government territory.

Interestingly, this was one of the principal reasons for the weapon designers to create it – to offer those threatened by repressive governments a way to arm themselves. If you want to know more about this, thoroughly recommend the Popular Front documentary on it.

It isn’t just with firearms that the anti-government forces are equipping themselves. As early as April 2021, less than three months after the coup, improvised rockets struck the major Tatmadaw airbases of Meiktila and Magway.

This is in territory firmly under military control, the latter only 90 miles from the capital of Naypyidaw, and so showed how the coup had changed the conflict’s dynamics to include areas and people who had not been involved previously.

Though the improvised rockets had apparently no effect, being too widely scattered, it is of note that attacks, this time using proper ordnance such as the ubiquitous 107mm rocket, have since been launched against air bases in central Burma.

Certain PDF units have also begun building a weapon that has been a standard one in use by the EAO’s for years, the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. Though the term “improvised” isn’t really correct, because in fact many are specially designed for specific purposes and tactical usage.

The Kachin Independence Army has been manufacturing a series of standardized mines for some time, and it seem that the PDF has taken from their example.

One group, the “Peoples Soldiers’ Production Team” appears to be making IEDs to a set standard for use against the military.

According to information released by the group, the weapon can be remote detonated from one kilometer away, cost about US$50 each and have carrying handles as part of the design for easy of transportation.

Burmese rebel groups are also fully exploiting a technology that has become a standard for anti-government forces the world over – drones.

Since their use by ISIS in 2016/17, simple and cheap civilian models have become common place in guerrilla forces and Burma is seeing more and more use of them, both by the existing EAOs and the new PDF units.

The pattern also seems to have followed the one set by ISIS’ original developments. Initially drones were used for observation, allowing the targeting of mortar fire and the detonation of remote IEDs. But now the EAOs and PDF units have begun to deploy bomb carrying drones and use these to strike at the Tatmadaw.

Since December, there appears to have been a spate of attacks on Tatmadaw units with these sorts of weapons, and as this example released by a Karenni guerilla force shows, countering them may prove difficult for the Tatmadaw.

Unfortunately, the Tatmadaw do have an extremely long history of resorting to the most vicious of tactics as response to challenges to them, and the spread of the civil war into previously secure areas has seen them apply brutality to these regions. There are almost daily reports of airstrikes in contested areas by Tatmadaw aircraft, often the Chinese-built Hongdu K-8 or Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters.

These do not employ smart weapons, but so-called “dumb” bombs and rockets and their usage is often indiscriminate against towns and villages as a way of inflicting casualties and terror on civilians.

 

The Tatmadaw is also resorting to using mortar fire on civilians – another long used tactic employed ethnic minority areas. Additionally, deserters from the Tatmadaw report that orders are being given to troops to use indiscriminate force against civilians with instructions, and I quote, to:

“…clear the ground of every moving thing; enemies or civilians.”

And there are plenty of reports of just how savage the actions of the Tatmadaw are being, one example in early December detailing how Tatmadaw bound eleven villagers with rope before setting fire to them.

The result of this widespread brutality is about what you expect. Burma, a country that has seen waves of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) created regularly over the decades, is seeing more population disruption as people flee the Tatmadaw’s attempts to hang onto power.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 320,000 people have been displaced by the last year’s events, and that number will only continue to rise.

But as the Tatmadaw inflicts atrocities wider and wider, they only seem to be hardening the resolve against them.

Related:

https://www.freeburmarangers.org/category/reports/

‘My first time holding a gun’: from Myanmar student to revolutionary soldier – The Guardian

https://www.reddit.com/user/notice_me_mina/ – reddit on Burma guerrilla activities

Plastic Defence: Secret 3D Printed Guns in Europe – Popular Front

THE FGC-9 IN MYANMAR: 3D GUNS AND THE FUTURE OF GUERILLA WARFARE – Sandboxx

Myanmar’s Rebels Get Resourceful With Improvised Drones – Bellingcat

https://militarymatters.online/playlist/military-history/long-war-burma/

The Long War Pt. 1; Background to the Burma/Myanmar Civil War and the EAOs

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