Burma Army Seeks to License-Build Pakistani Fighter Jets

By Saw Yan Naing 8 February 2017

The Burma Army is in “advanced negotiations” with Pakistan to license-build third-generation JF-17 fighter jets after previously purchasing 16 of the aircraft, according to an article in IHS Jane’s military review which cited military sources from the defense industry and Burma Air Force in Rangoon.

Military expert Anthony Davis told The Irrawaddy that the JF-17 is a relatively inexpensive option that can operate in air-to-air conflict but also has ground-attack capabilities to deliver dumb bombs and precision-guided munitions.

“In the latter role, it is far more likely to be used in action against ethnic armed groups inside Burma than against foreign invaders,” said Davis.

He noted that the Burma Army has been looking to upgrade its defense capacities and to modernize its army, navy and air force since the 1990s and that this latest effort to obtain a license from Pakistan to build jet fighter is another major step.

“Negotiations towards licensed production in Myanmar of the JF-17 fighter is one step—and an important one—in an overarching policy of building up the country’s indigenous defense industry,” said Davis.

The JF-17 is co-developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation.

The Burma Army-controlled Defense Ministry asked for nearly 2.9 trillion kyats (US$2.1 billion)—14 percent of the government’s 21 trillion kyats ($15.4 billion) annual budget—for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The large budget is unsurprising “given the Tatmadaw’s perception of itself as the ultimate and best arbiter of what is good for the country, its escalating campaigns against ethnic minority insurgents, and its ambitious modernization plans,” said Davis.

Sources also told IHS Jane’s that the first of 16 imported JF-17 jets ordered by Burma in 2015 are expected to go into service in the country’s air force later in 2017.

Davis said that the long term goal of the Tatmadaw is clearly to ensure that the defense industry matures on the basis of technology transfers.

There is also a focused effort to expand “an industrial base tailored towards ground force requirements into ship-building and aircraft manufacture,” he said.