Myanmar Military Planes Grounded by Accidents and Lack of Parts

By The Irrawaddy 28 February 2023

Myanmar military training aircraft bought from Germany are grounded because of accidents and the regime’s inability to acquire spare parts. At the same time, a planned joint project to manufacture training aircraft with an Austrian-based company has stalled because of the inability to buy parts, The Irrawaddy has learned.

In 2015, after the European Union (EU) lifted sanctions against Myanmar and under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, the Myanmar Air Force bought Grob-120 TP training aircraft from Germany for the first time. The aircraft were purchased through middlemen.

Each Grob-120 TP two-seat trainer is worth around US$2.7 million, according to aerospace experts.

The Dynasty Group of Companies, owned by Dr. Aung Moe Myint, acted as a middleman for the purchase, according to Myanmar military observers. The EU imposed sanctions on the Dynasty Group earlier this month.

Dynasty Group started working as early as 2014 to acquire aircraft for the Myanmar Air Force. At least 20 Grob-120 TP aircraft are believed to have been purchased in 2015, and are kept at the Meiktila air base in Mandalay Region, according to observers and defectors.

However, the Myanmar military has not been able to purchase spare parts for the planes since Germany re-imposed sanctions in 2019. Some of the aircraft have also been grounded because of technical problems and accidents.

Observers believe that the Myanmar Air Force lacks the technical expertise to fix the Grob-120 TP, which use sophisticated European technology.

DART-450 military trainer production project

The DART-450 aircraft body.

The DART-450, or Diamond Aircraft Reconnaissance Trainer, production project has also stalled as the Myanmar military cannot buy parts. A joint project between the Austrian-based, but Chinese-owned Diamond Aircraft Industries and the Myanmar military, the project is intended to manufacture aircraft primarily to be used for pilot training.

A deal was reached with Diamond Aircraft Industries when then Myanmar military chief and current junta boss Min Aung Hlaing visited Europe in 2017, according to observers. An assembly facility was built for the DART-450 in Meiktila in 2018, The Irrawaddy has learned.

Myanmar-based Miya Win Company served as a middleman for the project. The director of Miya Win is U Ne Win Htut, who has interests in construction and air cargo transport, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

Miya Win International Limited has imported parts and a full-scale training model for Camcopter S-100 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, since the 2021 coup, according to activist group Justice For Myanmar.

The parts are from Austrian company Schiebel Corporation, and were sent to Myanmar via their Russian partner, OAO Gorizont, which manufactures the drones under license.

Gorizont exported the items to Miya Win International in Myanmar on February 19 and 20, 2021, according to data from the trade database, ImportGenius. Most of the items were Schiebel trademarked.

In March 2022, Britain imposed sanctions against Miya Win Co for acting as a broker to supply aircraft and to provide maintenance for the Myanmar Air Force.

Austrian technicians from Diamond Aircraft Industries came to Myanmar in 2019 to help the military produce DART-450 aircraft on its own, said observers.

But just one plane has been built so far as the military regime has not been able to acquire the parts needed for production, especially as the plane’s engine is made by Ukraine’s state-owned Ivchenco Corporation. Ukraine and Russia have been at war for the last year.

With Myanmar backing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is assumed that Ukraine has refused to sell the engines to the Myanmar military.

When asked by The Irrawaddy if Diamond Aircraft Industries is continuing to help the Myanmar Air Force to manufacture DART-450 aircraft, director of marketing & communications Anita M. Lentsch said: “All European and US embargo measures are of course observed by Diamond Aircraft in every legal transaction and, if necessary, approvals are obtained from the responsible authorities.”

Map showing the location of the DART-450 assembly facility in Meiktila.

She added: “We are asking for your understanding that some aspects are subject to non-disclosure agreements.”

Each DART-450 is worth around US$3.1 million, according to experts.

David Scott Mathieson, an independent analyst who has been working on conflict, peace, and human rights issues in Myanmar for over 20 years, said that the Myanmar Air Force already has an assortment of jets and helicopters for ground attack, which they are using mercilessly. If the DART-450 production is delayed, it may disrupt pilot training, but will not stop it as there are already Grob-120 TP trainers in service.

Mathieson said that while the Grob aircraft do not pose a current threat, as the Myanmar military uses Russian-made YAK-130’s and Mi-35’s for its airstrikes against civilians and resistance targets, the Grob planes could be reconfigured for attack purposes in the future.

He urged all aircraft manufacturers in Austria and Germany to cease all support for aircraft sales to Myanmar, even if the planes are ostensibly in non-combat configurations.

A KW-8 pilot jet trainer built in cooperation with Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation.

“The golden rule for all aircraft manufacturers around the world is regardless of how benign you think your plane is, you’re selling it to a war criminal regime which renders you complicit in their atrocities,” said Mathieson.

While the Myanmar Air Force can’t build a pilot trainer employing European technology, it has been able to produce the MTZ-1A two-seat training aircraft based on China’s PT-6 [Nanchang CJ-6] plane.

The MTX-1 A was seen on display on December 15 last year, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Myanmar Air Force.