RUSSIA-BURMA NUCLEAR INTELLIGENCE REPORT #2
RUSSIA-BURMA NUCLEAR INTELLIGENCE REPORT #2
By Roland Watson
August 7, 2008
We have received additional intelligence that expands our last report, and which also provides confirmation for earlier reports. This intelligence comes from new sources. In summary, as we continue to receive information, the details of the SPDC’s nuclear program are becoming more and more concrete.
Nuclear program objective
In May 2001, at the National Defence College (Rangoon), SPDC Science and Technology Minister U Thaung said that Burma would make an effort to possess nuclear weapons by 2020. Once achieved, this would make the regime the strongest military power in Southeast Asia; the country would be transformed into the “Fourth Burman Empire”; and, it would be able to threaten Thailand militarily.
This statement reveals the SPDC to be a grave threat to international security and peace. The regime’s announcement that its new 10 MW reactor is intended for peaceful research purposes is a lie.
The SPDC’s program to acquire nuclear weapons began in 1990. (At this time the junta was known as SLORC.) Rangoon University Physics Professor U Po Saw was consulted about developing the technology, and also the selection of candidates to become state scholars. The process of honing cadet officers for training in nuclear technology was begun in 1997 with Defense Services Academy Class 42.
Prior to 2000, Russian nuclear experts were invited and discussions on building a reactor, its location, and the training of state scholars, were held.
Our sources also tell us that the junta first contacted India to obtain nuclear technology. The country agreed to accept state scholars. However, since India also stipulated that it had to supervise and control the operation of the reactor, this approach was halted.
With the help of China, the SPDC succeeded in reaching its agreement with Russia. In addition, the Chinese government has advised the junta that it should try, by various means, to make nuclear weapons and, if it cannot produce them by its target date of 2020, that it should buy them.
In 2003, the regime sent thirty military officers to North Korea to study reactor technology. In 2006, it started buying from the North the machinery necessary for reactor construction. The SPDC established its connection with North Korea so it would not have to stop the program if its relations with Russia turned sour.
The SPDC sells natural resources to obtain nuclear technology, including for the costs of educating the state scholars (a new source confirms that there are over 4,600 in Russia alone). We have also learned that the resource sales included 20,000 tons of iron ore mined in Ka-thaing Taung, a range in the Hpakan area in Kachin State (near the famous jade mines). But, and as has been reported by others, the junta did experience financial problems in 2005 and its program with Russia was suspended. These difficulties were overcome, the program was restarted, and the SPDC is now financially secure. (The reason for this change of fortune is obvious. According to the new U.S. Burma law: “The Congressional Research Service estimates that the Yadana pipeline provides at least $500,000,000 in annual revenue for the Burmese Government.”)
Our new sources further tell us that the SPDC has secretly tried to gain assistance from Iran. This confirms a relationship that we have previously heard about from other sources.
Further, in 2000, Japan started taking scholars for doctoral level studies, to operate a reactor. With the help of Japan, new departments of nuclear science have been set up at Rangoon University, Mandalay University, and the Defense Services Academy.
Training in Russia
In 2001, the first batch of scholars, 150 military officers, was sent to Russia from Tada U Airport on chartered Aeroflot flights.
In Russia, the scholars attend a variety of institutes in Moscow and also St.Petersburg, depending on their subjects of study. The schools include:
MEPHI – Moscow Engineering Physics Institute
MIET – Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology
MATI – Moscow Institute of Aviation Technology
MAI – Moscow Aviation Institute
BMSTU – Bauman Moscow State Technical University
MITT – Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology
MISI – Moscow Civil Engineering Institute
MSMU – Moscow State Mining University
MEPHI teaches nuclear science, MIET rocket guidance, MAI aircraft and space subjects, and MATI the technology for building rockets to carry satellites. There are also course programs in tunneling, uranium mining, and uranium ore refining.
Our new sources confirm that many of the scholars are unhappy. They were forced to go to Russia; their pay is too low; the harsh weather has caused them problems; and the medical care they receive is inadequate. They complained to the Burma Embassy in Moscow, and asked to be sent home. In response, the Directorate of Intelligence sent weekly instructions urging them to complete their work and to fulfill the national aim (to produce nuclear weapons). At one point former Foreign Minister U Win Aung came in person and told the students to finish their studies. He relayed a message from Vice Chief of Staff Maung Aye that anyone who married a Russian woman scientist and then returned to Burma would be rewarded.
Also, in 2002, Quartermaster General Win Myint as well as the Navy Chief, Air Chief and Transport Minister went to Russia and arranged for the training of twenty Air Force pilots, who would then take ten purchased MIG 29s back to Burma. They additionally discussed whether Burma should acquire aircraft carriers and submarines. In July 2002, Science and Technology Minister U Thaung went to Russia and signed the agreement for the acquisition and construction of the nuclear reactor.
In our previous report we stated that the site of the reactor is Kyauk Pa Toe (aka Kyauk Pha Htoe), near Tha Beik Kyin. While we do not yet have a confirmation of this, we have received additional information about the SPDC’s efforts to keep its location secret.
Even the technicians who were trained to build the reactor were not allowed to know its site. In June 2006, there was an information leak, and the officers for the program were called to Naypyidaw and interrogated. This is apparently a reference to the information that was published by Bertil Lintner in a July 2006 Asia Times article, which said that North Korean technicians had been seen at Natmauk, a town to the east of Magwe.
We have now learned that a 10-megawatt reactor was being built (or was intended to be built) in Myaing Township, Magwe Division, and further that it was to use heavy water and, for that reason, that it would be able to produce plutonium.
This leaves us with two plausible reactor sites, Myaing Township and Kyauk Pa Toe. One scenario that could explain this discrepancy is that the SPDC’s original plan was to locate the reactor in Magwe, but that this subsequently changed, perhaps because, as The Irrawaddy reported, it is an earthquake zone. In any case, while Magwe remains a possibility, there is also a strong source identification for Tha Beik Kyin.
We have received additional information about Burma’s uranium deposits, which helps confirm our prior reports. Uranium ore that is commercially exploitable exists in the Kyauk Pyon, Paungpyin and Kyauk Sin areas. In addition, uranium prospecting has occurred or is underway in southern Tenasserim, Karenni State (the Loikaw area), Moehnyin in Kachin State, and in areas west of Taunggyi.
Uranium milling is in progress at Tha Beik Kyin. Further, and as we speculated in our last report, we have received information that a program to enrich milled uranium (yellowcake) to U-235 has also begun at Tha Beik Kyin. The entire operation at this location is now referred to as Nuclear Battalion-1.
We have also had confirmed that in early 2006, yellowcake was sold to North Korea. In July 2006, the regime purchased from North Korea nuclear activation equipment for use in uranium enrichment and also for the production of plutonium. While we do not know the precise nature of this equipment, there is a good probability, given the other information, that it includes centrifuges. At least one North Korean nuclear expert is now working in Tha Beik Kyin.
We further have confirmation that a related Military Research Center was built in the Setkhya range (aka Sa Kyin) near Lun Kyaw, which area is also reportedly a Nuclear Battalion, and that there is a Civilian Research Center in Kyaukse Township. There are also Russian nuclear experts in Pyin U Lwin, who give refresher courses to the state scholars after they return home.
Military modernization and Napyidaw defense
The SPDC has made a great effort to purchase major weapons systems and to modernize its armed forces. We can now report the following significant acquisitions.
In 2002, the junta bought 122 mm howitzers from North Korea. From China Northern Industries Corporation, it bought fifteen large radars for air force use. These radars were installed at Mingaladon Air Force base; Namsan Air Force base; the radar base at the top of Nat-ye-gan Mountain in Ann Township; Hainggyi Island radar base; and Koko Island radar base. Moreover, for sea and coastal security the regime installed naval-use radars, on Pyin Wain, Take Soon and Ta-pin-hmaw islands in the Irrawaddy Division; on Kyun Thaya, Mayu, Man-aung and Nantha islands in Arakan State; and on eight islands in Tenasserim Division. In 2002, it also bought, from Russia, ten MIG-29s; as well as, in February 2005, missile launchers and trucks; and, in November 2006, 122 mm and 240 mm missiles.
Naval officers are enrolled in training courses in India and Russia. In India, they attend a Ship Simulator Course, and in Russia Anti-Ship Firing and Missile courses. From September 2007, the SPDC started to buy twenty-eight anti-ship missile carriers, in batches, and the related missiles. India together with China are also both selling and giving weapons to Burma. In 2007, India gave 76 mm and 75 mm mountain batteries and 120 mm anti-aircraft batteries, for ten anti-aircraft battalions.
Before 2000, there were only two artillery divisions in Burma. By 2004, the heavy weapons force had been expanded to ten artillery divisions and one rocket division.
Since the move of the military headquarters to Pyinmana, fiber optic cables have been used to communicate with the regional commands. A Wide Area Network (WAN) is used to connect strategic locations including the defense perimeter of Naypyidaw, the radar bases in Rangoon Division, the air force bases, the naval bases, etc. In addition, for the defense of Pyinmana, the ten battalions of MOC 6 are posted in the area. An anti-aircraft battalion is stationed at Taung Nyo in the Pegu Yoma range, another anti-aircraft battalion is to the east of Wegyi and Thawutti, and a number of anti-aircraft missiles are based in Pyinmana itself. For additional security for Naypyidaw, two armored battalions are stationed between Pyawbwe and Pyinmana towns, and three artillery battalions and the No. 901 Artillery Operation Command are in the Bawnetgyi-Payagyi area, in Pegu Division.
For signal communications security, the SPCD is developing its own wireless systems. Prior to 2006, XD-D6M machines were used. They could generate wavelengths of from .01 to 99 meters, and the signal could be intercepted easily. For that reason, the SPDC instructed the Armed Forces Main Communications Factory to produce new devices. In 2006, the factory created a new wireless device, with Chinese technical assistance, and it was tentatively named 2006M1. The new machines produce wavelengths of from .00001 to .00009 meters. It is reportedly quite difficult to intercept messages sent over the new machines.
The SPDC is also developing computer software to replace the manual firing programs for the 76 mm and 120 mm artillery, mortars, 25 Pounder and 105 mm howitzers, etc. There has also been software research for forward observation systems both from the ground and the air.
The defense industry factories No. 16 and 19 have been extensively modified so that they may produce spare parts. (Chinese and Russian weapons are notorious for regularly needing replacement parts, and the weapons also wear out more quickly in the tropics.) The SPDC had Chinese and North Korean experts modify factory No. 14 so that it is able to produce medium-range rockets. Construction of factory No. 14 was started in 2000 in Ngapeh Township of Magwe Division and it is believed to be in operation. Approximately 3,000 military engineers are working in the factory. (Note: Our last report estimated that it would be five years before the SPDC could produce medium-range rockets, but it referred to Russian-made guided rockets, so this could be a separate project.)
The fact that the SPDC is aggressively seeking nuclear weapons (not to mention all of its other programs) should make the leaders of Thailand, and the world, extremely concerned. The appeasement policy of the Thai government and the International Community towards the junta must be reversed. The SPDC is a threat of the greatest severity. It must be stopped. Since the Security Council, with Russian and Chinese vetoes, is unable to act, there must be an alternative solution. The only real options are for the U.S., either alone or with other concerned nations (Thailand?), to assist the people of the country to free themselves, using whatever means are required.
At the moment, though, there is a conspiracy of silence even to acknowledge this threat. Thailand, the U.S. and other nations are preoccupied with other problems. There is no desire to recognize publicly another new crisis. We therefore must force the issue.
We at Dictator Watch recognize the need for the media to confirm its sources and to only publish news after it has been verified. But, we also understand that there is such a thing as investigative journalism. For situations as serious as this, we are surprised that there are apparently not major investigations underway, by leading media outlets. After all, there are innumerable dissatisfied people inside the SPDC, including many who should have knowledge of the intelligence that we have revealed. It should not be that difficult to secure independent confirmation.
Our reports to date have served to alert the Burmese, NGO and intelligence communities, but because there has been no major media coverage the world at large is as yet uninformed. Most importantly, this lack of coverage means that political leaders, in Thailand, the U.S., at the U.N., etc., can continue to act as if there is not a problem.
The fact that the new U.S. Burma law requires the Secretary of State to prepare a report on the SPDC’s programs for weapons of mass destruction is a good start, and something to which we would be pleased to contribute. However, a threat of this severity requires more than a report.