June 8, 2006:
Myanmar (still referred to as Burma) has been ruled by a military dictatorship for the last 44 years. The generals have run the economy into the ground, and succeeded in suppressing all attempts at establishing a representative government. They have also managed to maintain the support of a fairly large army. How have they managed to pull this off for so long? Simple, the generals have concentrated on maintaining the loyalty of the officers and senior NCOs in the armed forces. This is done by making the military a well paid, by Burmese standards, profession, and select carefully from among those who apply to be career soldiers.
About one percent of Burma's 50 million people are in the armed forces (including paramilitary "intelligence" and "security" secret police type organizations.) The secret police keep an eye on the troops, and the troops keep an eye (and often gun pointed at) the people. Myanmar only spends about a billion dollars a year on the armed forces, most of that going to pay and living expenses of infantry troops.
Most of the troops serve in 500 infantry (60 percent of them "light infantry") battalions. The "light" units are cheap to maintain. No vehicles, and few heavy weapons. But such units are excellent for controlling unruly citizens. About half the infantry do just that, being assigned to 22 Operation Control Commands (OCCs), which cover most of the country. Each OCC has about ten infantry battalions, trained to deal with unrest, patrolling and low level infantry combat. In the last two decades, the number of infantry battalions has nearly doubled.
Myanmar has also been building up a mechanized force of about ten divisions. They are doing this by purchasing bargain basement (and relatively primitive) armored vehicles from China and other low cost providers. The problem is that, the military budget is so meager, that there is no money to buy fuel for training these mechanized units. Some leaked Myanmar military documents indicate that the generals really believe that the United States is going to invade. It's clear to any military planner that the United States could move in and seize several of the major urban areas in the country in a matter of days. This is something most Burmese would like to see happen, but there much less enthusiasm for this in America. As a result, Myanmar's mechanized might sits there waiting to be used against any civilian unrest.