Burma’s Military Chief Observes Fighter Jet Production in Russia

By Yan Pai 27 June 2013

Burma’s commander-in-chief of defense services, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday visited a Russian fighter jet plant to observe the production process, according to a state-run news source.

The New Light of Myanmar, a government-controlled English-language daily, reported on Wednesday that the commander-in-chief and an accompanying military delegation made an observational trip to the JSC RAC MiG plant in Lukhovitsy, a town located 135 kilometers southeast of the capital Moscow.

Apart from observing the fighter jet production process, Min Aung Hlaing was provided with a test flight demonstration of Russia’s newly upgraded MiG-29 M fighter, the newspaper said.

The Burmese Air Force’s fleet currently consists of aircraft models from China, the United States and several European nations, including Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters and other attack helicopters from the Russian Federation.

Speculation has arisen that the Air Force may be looking to upgrade to newly made Russian aircraft as a result of the commander-in-chief’s official visit, which began on June 23, to the formerly communist Soviet Union.

However, Maj Aung Linn Htut, a former Burmese intelligence officer who currently lives in the United States, said he did not think that the trip by Min Aung Hlaing was intended to buy new military equipment. He said it was instead to secure more spare parts and supplies for Russian-made aircraft and weapons currently in service in Burma, and to bolster relations between the two armed forces.

“Since Burma is in an early stage of military cooperation with the US, I think it has to go to Russia to counterbalance its relations,” said the ex-spy. “I also think that his trip is to settle contracted deals between Russia and the previous military regime, which were signed by Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the then second in command of Burmese junta.”

A controversial Burma-Russia nuclear research center deal and scholarships for Burmese military personnel are among the issues to be resolved between the two countries, he added.

The New Light of Myanmar also reported that Min Aung Hlaing held talks on Monday with the Russian defense minister general of the Army, Sergey K Schoigu, concerning a number of matters, including promoting relations between the two armed forces and Burmese military scholars in Russia.

When Burma was ruled by the military junta, the country more or less relied on Russia and China for military equipment and other political support. Naypyidaw, however, has resumed and extended its relations with the United States and other Western countries under the current quasi-civilian government.

Last month, Defense Minister Lt-Gen Wai Lwin accompanied President Thein Sein in his state visit to the United States and reportedly tried to re-establish official relations between the Burmese and US armed forces.

So far, the extent of that military-to-military re-engagement has been limited. Burma was allowed to observe the US-led “Cobra Gold” exercise, the largest annual multi-national military exercise in Asia, in February, and a US military delegation visited Naypyidaw in October of last year.