How rebel fighters are using 3D-printed arms to fight the Myanmar junta

Nearly a year after a military junta took power in Myanmar, the country’s rebels have a new tool in their hands. Photos posted on social media in early December show them armed with 3D-printed guns, a cheaper way to reinforce their arsenals and train new fighters. 

This photo shows a Burmese rebel armed with a 3D printed firearm.
This photo shows a Burmese rebel armed with a 3D printed firearm. © war_noir

In the jungles of Myanmar, the resistance is growing. Ever since a military junta took over the country in a coup on February 1, 2021, rebel groups have been engaging in guerilla warfare against soldiers in pockets all across the country. 

The People’s Defence Forces (PDF), the armed branch of the resistance party, the National Unity Government, has been using any and all weapons in their possession to fight their country’s military regime. 

Some fighters have been posting photos of themselves carrying weapons made using 3D printers. A photo posted on Twitter on December 9, 2021 by Jake Hanrahan, a British independent journalist and founder of independent media outlet the Popular Front, shows a Myanmar rebel armed with a FGC-9, a 9mm caliber pistol made using a 3D printer. 

The first photo of an FGC-9 in the hands of a rebel, posted by @Jake_Hanrahan.

A screengrab of the post was also shared on Reddit, on a forum dedicated to 3D-printed weapons. If you scroll through the comments, a social media user using the name DaddyUMCD says that he was the one who first posted the image, using an account that has since been deleted. He describes himself openly as a Burmese rebel fighter. 

The man’s new Reddit profile features two other photos of 3D printed weapons. These are also FCG-9s, modified with an extended barrel. 

“We are mass producing FGC9 to fight back the dictator,” the user explained in a post featuring a photo of several 3D-printed weapons on December 13.

One major advantage provided by 3D-printed weapons is their relative cost effectiveness – if you have a 3D printer. A printer can cost around 220 euros, plus 88 euros for other tools and to build a barrel, plus a further 88 euros to fabricate each gun after that, according to Slate

Independent journalist Jake Hanrahan made a 2020 documentary about the person who invented the FGC-9, a libertarian known by the pseudonym JStark, who he interviews in the film. The man doesn’t reveal his identity, but does, however, explain why he created the pattern for the FGC-9 and then put it online:

The government, or the entity that has rule over you, has an executive force. The police, the military – they have firearms. To be able to escape that injustice, they [citizens] need to have the same force, on an individual level.

Thanks to an active and united community of supporters, the patterns for this 3D weapon are widely available online. So with just three clicks on Google, you can get the pattern for an FGC-9 (which stands for “Fuck Gun Control 9mm”) for free.

The plan for the handle of the FGC-9 in 3D.
The plan for the handle of the FGC-9 in 3D. © Observers

Our team contacted Jake Hanrahan, who told us about seeing the FGC-9 in the hands of Burmese rebels:

I think it's the most credible, real-world implementation of what JStark wanted the FGC-9 to be. He wanted people that are under tyranny – which the rebels that are in Myanmar undoubtedly are under deep tyranny from the military junta there – he wanted people like that to be able to fight back in some small way.

For the time being, our team hasn’t seen any photos posted online showing Myanmar rebels using the FGC-9 in combat. 

Leone Hadavi, an expert in arms with the collective Myanmar Witness, which documents human rights abuses in the ongoing civil war, told the FRANCE 24 Observers: “We see lots of weapons, but not many 3D-printed pistols and none in a combat operation.”

DaddyUMCD, the assumed Burmese rebel on Reddit, said the same thing, in response to a comment: “Frankly, we haven’t done a lot of missions with it yet. These are meant to be used in hit and run missions and to get better weapons from the enemy. For the training ground, these work great.”

According to the website Myawady, Myanmar authorities arrested a person in 2020 for “terrorist actions”. They also seized weapons belonging to this person, which included 3D-printed guns. The photos show six FGC-9 guns that were 3D printed along with their chargers. 

These weapons were seized by security forces. The photo shows six FGC-9 and their chargers.
These weapons were seized by security forces. The photo shows six FGC-9 and their chargers. © Myawady

'The People's Defence Force have been coming together to respond to the regime's violence'

In videos of fighting posted by rebels from the People’s Defence Force, the men are using military assault rifles with a superior caliber (5.56 mm or 7.62 mm), Hadavi explained. These are the same type of weapons seen when the rebels share images of loot they’ve gotten from an attack or raid.

Weapons captured during a PDF raid, published in a photo on Facebook on December 11, 2021.

To face the organised military junta, different groups of rebel fighters have been developing and perfecting guerrilla techniques, moving under cover and carrying out blitz attacks and small skirmishes, Hadavi said.

Outside of the cities the PDF were progressively formed to respond to SAC attacks and harassment. In the second phase of their transformation, they collaborated with different ethnic armed organisations depending in what area they are formed and operating. These well-established local groups have weapons, supplies, know the area, and are actually very involved in the training and unit formations of these urban youngsters and in the planning of their operations, which are usually jointly conducted.

With better organisation and equipment, PDF elements could also go back into the cities.

>> Read on The Observers: Myanmar Witness verifies citizens’ photos and videos to document human rights concerns

The rebels aren’t just making small caliber pistols, they are also seeking to diversify their weaponry. Some social media users have also noticed images of locally made explosives, like IEDs.

This video shows another example of the group’s move to diversify their weaponry. Posted on Twitter by an account that follows rebel groups, this video shows people in uniform attaching a modified grenade to a DJI civilian drone. 

On December 25, 2021, more than 30 charred bodies were discovered in burned out cars in Kayah, a state located in the eastern part of the country. Soldiers from the junta are accused of attacking this convoy as a response to rebel attacks. 

More than 1,400 have died since the coup in February 2021, according to local monitors.