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Myanmar Air Force benefits from experience fighting rebels: Military chief

Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Senior General Min AungHlaing checks fighters at the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the air force.Caption

The commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s military says the Myanmar air force has gained experience from fighting with ethnic armed groups in the country and that those experiences will help the air force to be on par with their counterparts around the world.

Myanmar military chief Senior General Min AungHlaing and senior military officers attended an event to mark the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the air force at a pilot training base in Meiktila, Mandalay Region on Sunday. At the ceremony, 10 aircraft were added to the air force fleet—two JF-17B multi-role combat aircraft, six Yak-30 light fighter aircraft and two MI-35P attack helicopters.

A total of 96 aircraft—79 planes of 10 different types and 17 helicopters of five different types—have been added to the air force fleet since the time of U TheinSein’s administration, according the Myanmar military.

“We can’t compete with India and China, but we can compete with our three other neighbors,” said military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, referring to Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh.

The military spokesperson said that among those countries, only the Myanmar air force has combat experience and experience assisting ground troops. The Myanmar military has been at war with ethnic armed groups since Myanmar regained independence in 1948.

“Military experience is invaluable, because you can’t gain this experience whenever you wish. We do this [add aircraft to the fleet] to be on par with international standards for a modern air force—to be able to defend the airspace of our country,” said the military spokesperson.

“We find that air support has become more important in modern warfare, and the threat of invasion typically comes more from the air,” he said.

The JF-17B multi-role combat aircraft, jointly developed by China and Pakistan, can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception, while the Russian-made Yak-130 can also be used for training, according to U TheinTunOo of the Thayninga Institute, a think tank formed by veterans of the Myanmar military. As for the MI-35, he said it can be used to support ground troops and its main advantage is that it can be used in military operations at night.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin announced in January 2018 that Russia would sell six SU-30SM fighters to Myanmar.

“After Myanmar procured a submarine from India, Thailand even said that they need to monitor the movements of the Myanmar navy in the Andaman Sea. This shows that regional countries dare not underestimate the strength of our country,” said U TheinTunOo.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said that before Myanmar’s air force had any jets, the country was unable to monitor international aircraft entering the country’s airspace and therefore lost out on potential taxes. But as the air force has grown, Myanmar can now make sure all planes in the country’s airspace pay the proper fees.

Previously, Myanmar had to rely on Russia and China for its air power, and all the jets, fighters and helicopters in the Myanmar air force were from Russia or China. However, after the European Union lifted its sanctions against Myanmar in 2013, Myanmar was able to acquire 12 German-made G120TP training aircraft.

In 2015, the air force acquired French-made ATR-42 and US-made BEECH 1990D transport and freight planes, as well as K-8W fighters. The K-8W is an advanced jet trainer assembled domestically by the Defense Ministry in cooperation with the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation.

The Myanmar Air Force was established in January 1947 when the country was still under colonial rule. Myanmar had only a few planes when it regained independence. At the time, the main responsibility of the air force was to provide transportation, logistics and air support for the army in its fighting against armed groups.