Though much attention has rightfully been turned to the remarkably effective ways soldiers and citizens alike have used consumer and enterprise drones in Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion, less notice has been made of the increasingly potent manner fighters in Myanmar have also been using UAVs to battle the armed forces of the nation’s repressive military junta.
According to media reports and studies by non-governmental organizations on the conflict, anti-junta militias in Myanmar have been deploying drones with increasingly formidable effect against the nation’s military since its generals overthrew the democratically elected government nearly two years ago. Though fighters in the umbrella People’s Defense Force (PDF) uniting myriad resistance groups receive no foreign support as Kyiv does in its battle, they’ve nevertheless managed to rig out and fly consumer, enterprise, and self-made UAVs in ways that have stunned the country’s far larger, immeasurably better-armed military.
One report published today on recent anti-regime strikes contains accounts from PDF forces describing at least 17 Myanmar army troops and officials being killed or injured by bombs dropped from drones on convoys or from planted mines. Attacks from the skies against regime forces are, moreover, becoming an increasingly regular and effective weapon used by resistance groups.
According to an investigation by Radio Free Asia updated yesterday, three specialized units operating under PDF aegis said they had conducted a total 642 UAV strikes last year in four different regions of the country. It noted an additional outfit called Wings of the Irrawaddy laid claim to 80 drone attacks in Myanmar last year that it believes killed between 80 and 100 junta forces.
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The successful deployment of drones by Myanmar resistance groups has been nearly as effective in leveling the remarkably unbalanced playing field against a massively better armed foe as it has been in Ukraine. Not only have UAVs provided underdog forces with critical aerial reconnaissance and intelligence data that proved vital in staging strikes in both conflicts, but their effectiveness in bombing missions has, moreover, made them powerful tools of psychological destabilization among already rattled junta troops hearing their approach.
Of course, that noise – and the relatively low altitude at which the craft are flown – makes PDF craft more vulnerable to being shot down by junta soldiers, who are also increasingly being equipped with jamming devices. But various accounts indicate their use of drones have allowed resistance forces to give Myanmar’s military a far stiffer fight that they, or anyone else imagined possible – and for good reason.
The United States Institute of Peace estimates the PDF commands about 65,000 fighters, compared to around 500,000 in Myanmar’s armed forces. Only 20% of resistance forces possess military-grade arms, while another 40% use homemade weapons. Unlike Ukraine, meanwhile, the PDF and allied militias receive no support from governments abroad, and largely rely on donations from domestic and foreign-based individuals to battle the China- and Russia-supplied regime.
But many volunteers to PDF ranks are younger people – some of whom have returned after living abroad – whose education or experiences have left them more tech-savvy than their elders. That has reportedly allowed them to facilitate the procurement or DIY construction of drones, as well as their operation against Myanmar’s army.
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Among the most effective of those aerial assets, accounts say, are hexacopters originally intended for agricultural use that can be outfitted to carry and drop up to five bombs. Those and other drones flown by the resistance are likely to multiply over the forests and hills of Myanmar as more of the PDF’s limited funds are directed to procuring even better UAVs.
“With the resources that we have, we are working to make more high-tech drones,” the spokesman for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, Kyaw Zaw, told Radio Free Asia. “We have not yet been able to supply the full range of drones and weapons [for drones]. But you will see that we will be able to destroy the junta’s tanks as we can supply a certain number of weapons.”