Russia Building Six Advanced Fighter Jets for Myanmar Military
By Moe Myint 25 April 2019
YANGON—Russia is assembling six Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter jets for Myanmar under a contract worth about US$204 million signed between the two nations last year, Russian news outlets reported on Wednesday.
The news was unveiled during the latest visit to Russia by Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing to attend the 8th Moscow Conference on International Security this week. Some military observer websites put the market price of one of the twin-turbine engine aircraft at about US$34 million.
At a press conference, Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said Russia’s military hardware was “very useful” for his military in key locations in Myanmar.
Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing personally inspected the production of the planes at Irkustsk Aviation Plant on April 23. Before the Russia tour, he traveled to China and visited an armored vehicle training school in Beijing and met with senior officers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on April 11.
Yangon-based military observer Ko Naing Swe Oo from Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a former military officer, told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar’s Air Force possesses reasonable firepower, sufficient to deter external invasion. Thus, he concluded the aim of buying the expensive Su-30SM multirole fighter jets was likely to achieve airspace superiority in the region, particularly in relation to Myanmar’s neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
Under the military regime, in 2000, Myanmar and Thailand clashed along the border. At that time, Myanmar did not possess the Russian MiG-29s it has now, and the Thai Air Forces deployed its multirole fighter jets during the conflict.
“SU-30SMs are capable of long-distance operations. We can use them in case there is an external invasion [attempt] against us in future,” he said.
He explained that the Su-30 was produced in a number of varieties. For instance, Malaysia has the Su-30 MKM, while India possesses the Su-30 MKI. He said the SU-30SM model is the latest in a series of aircraft upgraded by the Russian military.
However, given the military’s record against ethnic armed rebel groups, some local experts expressed concern about possible airstrikes against the groups by the supersonic jets. Even in battle against the Arakan Army (AA) in northern Rakhine’s Mrauk-U, the military used several MiG-29 warplanes. According to defense blogs, Myanmar has 20 MiG-29D planes and as of 2018, Moscow had delivered a total of 12 Yak-130 combat training aircraft to the Tatmadaw.
So far, Myanmar’s purchases of Russian military hardware include MiG-29 fighter jets, Yak-130 combat trainers, Mi-17, Mi-24 and Mi-35 combat helicopters and other weapons. The Su-30SM 4+ generation fighter jet is capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with a wide variety of precision-guided munitions and it can carry about 9 tons of ammunition at one time.
Despite its attempt to upgrade its fleet, the Myanmar Air Force has sustained many losses in recent years.
In October, 2018 a sixth-grade girl and two pilots were killed when a pair of military planes crashed in Magwe Region’s Minbu Township.
In April, 2018, an F-7 fighter from Toungoo Airbase also crashed, killing the pilot. The F-7 is a version of the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 licensed and built by China.
In September 2017, a military G-4 jet fighter from Pathein Airbase crashed about 19 km from Rakhine State’s Gwa Township. Two pilots died in the accident.
In February 2016, a Beechcraft airplane from Myanmar’s Air Force crashed near Naypyitaw International Airport, killing one major, two captains and two other crew members.
And in 2014, a MiG-29 fighter jet from Magwe Air Force Headquarters went down during flight training, damaging the jet but causing no casualties.