The Indian Navy (IN) is in the process of transferring two BN-2 'Defender' Islander maritime surveillance aircraft to Myanmar, an add-on to the pair it had supplied the military junta in August 2006, as defence co-operation between them proliferates, UK's Jane's Defence Weekly reports.
Quoting official sources, Jane's on Saturday said like the earlier two, the additional UK-built Islanders would be stripped of all armaments and deployed "exclusively on relief and humanitarian missions".
The IN has around 13 remaining Islanders it acquired around 1976 and senior military planners do not rule out the possibility of providing Myanmar more in the "near future", the respected defence magazine said.
The IN Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who is on an official visit to Myanmar till May 13, is expected to finalise details of the Islander's hand-over during his four-day visit and clinch those relating to establishing a naval aviation training facility for the military regime.
These two matters, amongst others relating to the transfer of Indian material to Myanmar, were discussed during the visits of its naval chief, Vice Admiral Soe Thane and Quartermaster General Lt Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo to New Delhi in April.
The navy's official spokesman declined to comment on the Islanders transfer but said Admiral Mehta's visit was aimed at "constructive engagement and establishing co-operative mechanisms between the two navies".
The IN is anxious to keep the two Islander's transfer to Myanmar under wraps as Britain had opposed the ones supplied earlier to the military junta. The British claimed that it contravened the original sale contract that prohibits their transfer to a third party without prior clearance.
India has recently stepped up strategic, diplomatic and economic ties with Myanmar agreeing to supply it varied military hardware like T 55 tanks, artillery guns, radar, assault rifles, light machine guns and ordnance.
In exchange Delhi is seeking to jointly conduct military operations against anti-India separatist groups waging insurgency for decades from inside Myanmar in the contiguous north-eastern states of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur across the 1600 km long common border.
By augmenting defence ties with Myanmar, India also hopes to dilute China's deepening military relations with that country.
"India has long ignored China and to some extent Pakistan's growing influence with Burma's military government at its peril and it is now looking to supersede it " a senior military official said.
Pakistan and close military ally China, he added, were amongst the handful of countries which had disregarded international opinion and forged close military ties with Myanmar's military regime that seized power in 1988, cleverly complementing their strategy of encircling India.
China is helping Burma modernise its naval bases at Hainggyi, the Coco's islands, Akyab and Mergui by building radar, refit and refuel facilities that could support Chinese submarine operations in the region.
The Chinese are also believed to be establishing a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility on the Coco's islands, 30 nautical mines from the Andaman islands, reportedly to monitor Indian missile tests off the Orissa coast, an activity that has proliferated after the 1998 nuclear tests.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has been circumspect in fostering defence ties and quietly supplying Myanmar several shiploads of ordnance and other military hardware like 106 mm M 40 recoilless rifles and various small arms over the past decade. It also regularly trains Burmese soldiers to operate a slew of Chinese equipment like tanks, fighter aircraft, howitzers and tanks.
Burmese military officers are believed to be regularly trained at Pakistan's Military Staff college at Quetta in Baluchistan province while others are reportedly learning how to operate 155 mm howitzers and tanks like the T 69, T 63 and T 53's which Rangoon recently acquired from China. Burmese air force and naval officers too are believed to be undergoing attending Pakistani defence academies.
Meanwhile, Myanmar's intentions of vindicating the bargain and cracking down on Indian rebel bases was confirmed around end-April by Brigadier General Tin Maung Ohn who led an 18-member army delegation to north eastern India for talks with army and paramilitary commanders in Nagaland and Assam.
"This is the first breakthrough, with Myanmar deciding to take proactive action against those Indian militants operating from their country," Lt Gen Paramjit Singh, head of the paramilitary Assam Rifles engaged in anti-insurgency operations in the northeast, said.
Despite pressure from the US, Britain and the European Union to shun Myanmar's military regime India has, since 2000 pursued a policy of 'constructive engagement' with its neighbour.
Besides increasing military co-operation it is also building and upgrading roads in Myanmar, modernising its ports, setting up a hydroelectric station, a satellite communication centre and an elaborate information technology project.
"Indian defence planners believe that Myanmar's military rulers entrench themselves more firmly every time the US and other Western powers put pressure on them in the UN and other world bodies. Engagement is a better way of dealing with them to secure Indian interests in Myanmar" former Brigadier Arun Sahgal of the United Service Institute said.