Myanmar has obtained through international dealers at least 100 Igla-1E (SA-16 'Gimlet') low-altitude surface-to-air missile systems, according to Bangkok-based intelligence sources.
The Igla-1E acquired by Myanmar is manufactured in Bulgaria by Vazovski Machinostroitelni Zavodi, which is based in Sopot. It is a licensed version of the improved second-generation Kolomna KBM Igla-1E, a variant of the Russian-designed Igla-1.
The Igla-1E uses a passive infrared seeker. It can engage targets to a maximum range of 5,200m and altitude of 11,500ft, or minimum range of 500m and altitude of 33ft. The two-stage system weighs 16.65kg in the firing position.
The missiles were obtained in mid-1998, but the contract has only now been confirmed. They were trans-shipped through Thailand, together with small arms and related material such as mortar fuzes and rocket-propelled grenade fuzes. It is not known whether the Bulgarian supplier was aware of the shipment's ultimate destination. The dealers who brokered the sale are not based in Thailand, but have previously used the country to cloak their activities.
Myanmar's air-defence capability has so far been mainly based on anti-aircraft artillery systems, with guns ranging from 20mm to 94mm. It may have obtained the BAe Dynamics Bloodhound Mk II surface-to-air missile system from Singapore in 1994, after this was phased out of the inventory there; and could have about 60 HN-5A manportable missile systems acquired from China in 1990, although these have never been seen by reliable observers. Regardless of whether the Bloodhound and HN-5A are operationally deployed by Yangon, acquisition of the Igla-1E is a significant improvement to its air-defence capabilities.