Burma Buys 50 Chinese Fighter Jets
The Burmese air force continues to expand with the recent procurement of 50 K-8 jet trainer aircraft from China, according to sources within the air force in Meikhtila, a district in upper Burma.
"Parts of the K-8 aircraft were transported by cargo ship from China and are being assembled at the Aircraft Production and Maintenance Base in Meikhtila," said one of the sources.
The purchase of the 50 aircraft comes after Burma’s air force chief Lt-Gen Myat Hein traveled to China in November to negotiate an upgrade to the fleet of Chinese-made military aircraft already owned by Burma.
"There are two reasons to purchase K-8 trainers," said the source. "Either for training exercises or for counter-insurgency."
The K-8 jet trainer, sometimes called the K-8 Karakorum or the Hongdu JL-8, is a joint venture between China and Pakistan, and is fitted with air-to-air missiles and rockets.
In 1998-9, the Burmese air force bought 12 K-8 jet trainers from China, which are now stationed at Taungoo Air Base in Pegu Division.
In addition to purchasing Chinese-made fighters and trainer aircraft, Naypyidaw signed a contract in late 2009 to buy 20 MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia at a cost of nearly US $570 million.
"The parts of the MiG-29 jet fighters will arrive in July and September by cargo ship and by plane," said an officer close to Col. Tun Aung, a key figure in the Burmese air force. He said that the 20 Russian aircraft will be assembled in Meikhtila.
Meanwhile, Burma's main air base for maintenance, the Aircraft Production and Maintenance Air Base (APMAB) in Panchangone in Mingaladon Township has been relocated to Nyaunggone, close to the regime's Flying Training Base in Shante in Meikhtila Township, according to a source from the air base.
"The APMAB got the order from Naypyidaw in January to relocate to the new location," he said, but said he did not know why the relocation took place.
Military sources from Rangoon said that Burmese ruling military council upgraded the air force’s facilities and expanded airfields, as well as two air force bases in Bassein and Homemalin in 2006, to fulfill operational capabilities.
With the 20 MiG-29s it recently bought from Russia for US $570 million, Burma appears to be continuing its ongoing efforts to close the gap with its much better-equipped neighbors.
In 2001, the regime purchased 12 MiG-29s after a border clash with Thailand in which the Thai military forced Burmese troops from border strongholds using US-made F-16 fighter jets.
Thailand's air force currently has an estimated 315 aircraft, including 184 combat aircraft. It has also ordered more advanced 12 JAS 39 Gripen aircraft from Sweden.
Another Southeast Asian nation, Vietnam, recently signed a billion-dollar deal with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi Su-30MK2s and a submarine.
Bangladesh, a neighbor that has tension with Burma over a territorial dispute in the Bay of Bengal, is estimated to have more than 200 military aircraft, including MiG-29 SEs.
Burma's latest batch of MiG-29s from Russia were purchased after the regime rejected an offer of a special price on J-10 fighter jets from its close ally, China.
The Burmese air force was founded in 1947 before Burmese independence. Its main objective has since been counter campaigns against the Communist Party of Burma and several ethnic armies.
Burma has 10 air force headquarters: Bassein Air Base in Irrawaddy Division; Mingaladon Air Base in Rangoon Division; Myitkyina Air Base in Kachin State; Myike Air Base in Tenasserim Division; Namsang Air Base in Shan State; Taungoo Air Base in Pegu Division; Meikhtila (Shante) Flying Training Base; Meikthila Grounding Training Base in Mandalay Division; Magwe Air Base in Magwe Division; and Homemalin Air Base in Sagaing Division.
This is reprinted from The Irrawaddy Daily, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement.