Reaching for the Sky
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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COVER STORY

Reaching for the Sky


By AUNG ZAW AUGUST, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.5


Russia and east european countries supply the tatmadaw’s helicopters.
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The Tatmadaw lacks trained pilots and  air-to-air combat experience, but its goal is to launch a modern air force

Burma’s military leaders want to have parity, if not air superiority, over neighboring countries, but it is still very much a dream. Regional defense analysts believe Burma has bought more than 100 jet fighters and aircraft from China since 1990. The Air Force currently has around 200 aircraft.

They include F-7 jet fighters, a Chinese copy of the Russian MiG-21, and the A-5 ground-attack aircraft. Burma has also bought smaller numbers of jet fighters, helicopters and military transport planes from Yugoslavia, Poland and Russia.

Russian, Ukrainian and Polish MI-12, MI-17, G-4 and Sokol helicopters now dominate Burma’s air force, replacing the Huskie, a US-made helicopter.

Since independence in 1948, Burma’s air force has heavily relied on planes from the US, UK, Holland, Switzerland and Italy. Faced with sanctions from the West, however, Burma can no longer purchase military planes from the US and UK. Thus, the air force now relies primarily on Chinese and Russian-made aircraft.

However, Chinese jet fighters are notoriously unreliable, have a shorter engine life and require frequent grounding—meaning that the air force’s ambition to have air superiority is still a distant dream. Also, many air force pilots simply do not like to fly the Chinese-made jet fighters and complain to officers.

The Burmese air force has historically lacked experience in air-to-air operations, but defense analysts say it is operational in support of ground forces against insurgents or invading forces. F-7 and A-5 aircraft are suitable for combat operations but are not suitable for counter-air defense. 

After Burma faced serious skirmishes with Thailand in 2001-2, Burma purchased 12 MiG-29 jet fighters. The irony is that Burma could afford to buy more jet fighters because of it sells natural gas to Thailand. Burmese leaders did not hide their anger toward Thailand and envy Thailand’s air superiority—the Thai air force has sophisticated US F-16 jet fighters and European made planes.

The Royal Thai Air Force recently announced plans to buy 12 Sweden Gripen jet fighters to replace ageing F-5 jet fighters. To counter Burma’s neighbors, the junta will buy more jet fighters. Gen Maung Aye, the junta’s No 2 man, plans to upgrade and modernize the three armed forces and expressed a desire to buy more MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia when he visited Moscow in 2006.

However, there are operational and maintenance issues with both Russian and Chinese-made aircraft. For instance, the MiG-29 jet fighter is a state-of-the-art aircraft, but Burmese pilots log few flying hours and there are few skilled pilots who can fly the MiG-29s. In addition, ranking air force officers reportedly prefer US or European aircraft.

Although now lagging behind its neighbors, Burma will push ahead to modernize its air force. As proof, it is building—with help from North Korea—tunnel facilities to house jet fighters in Upper Burma and Shan State.

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tocharian Wrote:
03/08/2009
You can read all this stuff and more in Maung Aung Myoe's new book "Building the Tatmadaw". I just finished reading it. I don't find all of this very surprising, since all generals in the world want to have all the weapons they can get and in Burma the generals rule, so that are doing it, including making nuclear bombs (pretty soon)!

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