Russia delivered the first two of six new Su-30 jet fighters to Myanmar in March, according to several informed sources who formerly served with the Myanmar Air Force.
Moscow sent several trainers and technicians to assist the Myanmar Air Force during the warranty period, according to the sources, who are former Myanmar Air Force officers who joined the anti-coup movement last year. They said the Russian pilots and technicians will stay in Myanmar until the warranty period is over. One source said several of the Russians are staying in Naypyitaw while some are based in Mandalay. He confirmed that the two new Su-30s are now in a hanger in Naypyitaw, a strategic location in central Myanmar from where they will be able to cover the entire country from the far north to the south.
The Su-30 is a twin-engine, two-seat supermaneuverable fighter jet developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Aviation Corporation. It is a multirole fighter for all-weather, air-to-air and air interdiction missions. The multirole fighters were used by Russia in Syria in 2015.
In 2018, Russia agreed to sell six Su-30 fighter jets to the Myanmar military during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Myanmar.
“The planes will become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force to protect the country’s territorial integrity and repel any terror threats,” Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin was quoted as saying at the time by the Russian news agency TASS.
Over the years, Myanmar’s military has bought MiG-29 and Su-30 multi-role aircraft, Yak-130 jet trainer and light combat aircraft, Mi-17 transport helicopters and Mi-24 helicopter gunships from Russia.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu visited Myanmar just a few days before the Feb. 1, 2021 coup and pledged to sell air defense weaponry to Myanmar. Deputy Defense Minister Fomin attended Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw the following month.
Myanmar’s bilateral relations with Russia have reached a new level since the coup, regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said in August last year. “Russia plays the central part in Myanmar’s air defense systems, followed by China. And the cooperation between the air forces is expanding,” the spokesman told reporters.
The regime has increased its military-to-military cooperation with Russia and has also expressed support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian Navy warship Gremyashiy made a friendly visit to Myanmar in October, and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing met the Russian delegation led by Russian deputy Navy chief Vice Admiral Vladimir Lvovich Kasatonov aboard the ship.
Prior to the recent delivery of fighter jets, a number of Russian pilots and technicians visited Myanmar as the military regime mounted increasingly frequent air attacks on ethnic armed organizations fighting for greater autonomy and on local People’s Defense Force groups that emerged after the military coup last year.
In February, The Irrawaddy reported that amid increasing junta air strikes in Sagaing and Magwe regions, a Russian military delegation comprising pilots was visiting the country.
The 24-member Russian delegation arrived in Mandalay on Jan. 28. Russian pilots have often visited Myanmar to provide aviation training as well as maintain and upgrade aircraft at Meiktila Air Base in Mandalay Region.
Myanmar’s neighbors including Thailand will watch the purchase of advanced and multirole jet fighters from Russia with alarm.
Last week, the Royal Thai Air Force scrambled two F-16 jet fighters after an aircraft, believed to be a Russian-made MiG-29 of the Myanmar Air Force, intruded into Thai airspace over the western province of Tak while conducting an air strike against anti-regime rebels and anti-coup forces positioned near the border. Karen insurgent officers speculated that the pilot of the jet fighter was Russian, though it could not be confirmed independently.
During Myanmar’s military offensive against insurgents and the civilian population, several incursions have occurred across the borders with Thailand and China, prompting a stern warning from Beijing to the junta.
In March 2015, during clashes with Kokang rebels in northeast Myanmar, Myanmar deployed jet fighters to attack the rebels on the China-Myanmar border. A bomb strayed into Chinese territory, killing five Chinese nationals and angering Beijing.
As a result, the Chinese military sent jet fighters and more troops to the area, and warned the Myanmar military that such an incident could never be allowed to take place again. General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s apex military leadership body, said, “The Chinese military will take resolute measures to protect the safety of the Chinese people and their assets.”
The Chinese government also demanded that Myanmar investigate the bombings, apologize, and pay indemnities to the families of those affected.
Subsequently in June, China launched a live-fire joint air-ground training exercise involving both its Army and Air Force along the China-Myanmar border.