The Myanmar Air Force (Burmese: တပ္မေတာ္ ( ေလ ) , pronounced: [taʔmədɔ̀ lè]) is the aerial branch of Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw. It is mainly used in counter-insurgency campaigns, and, on a smaller, scale, in relief missions, especially after the deadly Cyclone Nargis of May 2008.
Post Independence era (1948-1990)
The Myanmar Air Force was formed on 16 January 1947, while Myanmar (also known as Burma) was still under British rule. By 1948, the new air force fleet included 40 Airspeed Oxfords, 16 de Havilland Tiger Moths, four Austers and three Supermarine Spitfires transferred from the Royal Air Force with a few hundred personnel. The primary mission of Myanmar Air Force since its inception has been to provide transport, logistical, and close air support to the Myanmar Army in counter-insurgency operations. In its entire history, the air force has never been in air to air battle.
The Mingaladon Air Base HQ, the main air base in the country, was formed on 16 June 1950. No.1 Squadron, Equipment Holding Unit and Air High Command - Burma Air Force, and the Flying Training School, were placed under the jurisdiction of the base. A few months later, on 18 December 1950, No. 2 Squadron was formed with nine Douglas Dakotas as a transport squadron. In 1953, the Advanced Flying Unit was formed under the Mingaladon Air Base with de Havilland Vampire Mark T55s and by the end of 1953, the Burmese Air Force had three main airbases, at Mingaladon, Hmawbi and Meiktila, in central Myanmar.
In 1953, Myanmar Air Force bought 30 Supermarine Spitfires from Israel and 20 Supermarine Seafires from the United Kingdom; and 40 Hunting Provost T-53 and 8 de Havilland Vampire Mark T55s from the United Kingdom in 1954. In late 1955, the Burmese Air Force formed a Maintenance Air Base in Mingaladon, No. 501 Squadron Group (Hmawbi Airbase) and No. 502 Squadron Group (Mingaladon Air Base). In 1956, the Myanmar Air Force bought 10 Cessna 180 aircraft from the United States. The same year, six Kawasaki Bell 47Gs formed its first helicopter fleet. The following year, Myanmar Air Force procured 21 Hawker Sea Fury aircraft from the United Kingdom and nine de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otters from Canada. In 1958, it procured seven additional Kawasaki Bell 47Gs and 12 Vertol H-21 Shawnees from the United States. Five years later, No. 503 Squadron Group was formed with No. 51 Squadron (de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otters and Cessna 180s) and No. 53 Squadron (Bell 47Gs, Kaman HH-43 Huskies and Aérospatiale Alouettes) in Meiktila.
In 1962, a new radar station in Mingaladon and a mobile radar station in Lwemwe (near Tachileik) were put into operation. By December 1964, the Air Force had 323 officers and 5677 other ranks and it acquired Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star jet trainers and a new radar station, which could operate within a 120-mile radius, was opened in Namsang. In 1966, the radar arm of the air force underwent a complete overhaul and upgrade, with new radar stations being operated. The Namsang Radar station was upgraded to cover about a 200-mile radius and renamed to No.71 Squadron. In the same year Myanmar Air Force formed the No. 1 Airborne Battalion with 26 officers and 750 other ranks.
On 1 January 1967, the Myanmar Air Force reorganized its command structure. No. 501 Squadron Group in Hmawbi became No. 501 Air Base HQ; No. 502 Squadron Group in Mingalardon became No. 502 Air Base HQ; and No. 503 Squadron Group in Meiktila became No. 502 Air Base HQ in Meiktila. It also maintained airfield detachments in Lashio and Kengtung to cope with the insurgency of Burmese Communicaty Party in the northeast border region of the country.
In 1975 the Myanmar Air Force took delivery of 18 Bell 205A and seven Bell 206B helicopters from the United States under the International Narcotic Control Program (INCP). In March 1975, it bought 20 SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainers from Italy.
Between 1976 and 1987, the Myanmar Air Force bought seven Pilatus PC-6 Turbo porter STOL aircraft; and 16 Pilatus PC-7 and 10 Pilatus PC-9 turboprop trainers from Switzerland. These aircraft were deployed in Lashio for close air support for counter insurgency operations.
Modernization programme (1990 - present)
In the early 1990s, the Myanmar Air Force upgraded its facilities and introduced two new Air Base headquarters and existing Air Base headquarters were renamed. It also significantly upgraded its radar and electronic warfare facilities. Myanmar Air Force bought more than 100 aircraft from China, which included F7 IIK interceptors, FT-7 Trainers, A-5C Ground Attack Aircraft, FT-6M trainers, K-8 trainers and Y-8 transport aircraft. In December 1990, Myanmar Air Force took the first delivery of 10 F7 IIK interceptors and two FT-7 Trainers followed by another batch of 12 F7 IIK interceptors in May 1993. Further deliveries of F7 IIK interceptors were made in 1995, 1998 and 1999.
By 2000, Myanmar Air Force has received 62 F7 IIK interceptors from China. Israel was contracted to refurbish and upgrade all operational F-7s and FT-7s: these were to get the Elta EL/M-2032 air-to-air radar, Rafael Python Mk. III and even Litening laser-designator pods. The same equipment was then installed on the two-seater FT-7 fighter trainers as well. In a related deal, Israel delivered to Myanmar at least one consignment of laser-guided bombs, but no deliveries of any other weapons are known. Since the Elbit contract was won in 1997, the air force has acquired at least one more squadron of F-7 and FT-7 aircraft from China, but these were not upgraded.
Between 1992 and 2000, Myanmar Air Force took delivery of 36 A-5C Ground Attack Aircraft from China. In addition, Myanmar Air Force also bought 20 Soko G-4 Super Galeb armed jet trainers from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Myanmar Air Force procured a range of helicopters from Russia and Poland between 1991 and 1997. It bought 20 PZL-Swidnik Mil Mi-2 and 13 PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters from Poland and 13 Mil Mi-17 from Russia. These helicopters were put into counter insurgency operations against ethnic rebels in Irrawaddy delta. 4 Mil Mi-2, 4 PZL W-3 Sokol and 2 Bell 205 helicopters were grouped as an air detachment stationed in Bogalay for "Operation Monediang" in October 1991. During this operation, Mil Mi-2 were fitted with a wide range of weapons to provide ground attack and air cover for heliborne Air Assault operations. 4 Mil Mi-2 of the air detachment made a total of 80 sorties over 17 targets with nearly 82 flying hours. 4 PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters, unarmed and used for troop transport carrying 20 airborne commandos, each flew 443 missions with 197 flying hours. Bell 205 carried out search and rescue, and they flew 263 missions with over 114 flying hours.
In 2001, Myanmar Air Force bought 12 Mig-29 Fighter Aircraft (10 MiG-29Bs and two MiG-29UB two seats trainers) from Russia. This was followed by additional order of 20 Mig-29 (10 MiG-29B, 6 MiG-29SE and 4 MiG-29UB )as part of $570 Million defense package in December 2009. Myanmar Air Force also ordered 10 Mil Mi-35 Hind E gunship helicopters as part of $71 Million defence package signed in December,2009 followed by additional order of 50 in December 2010.
Despite these modernization measures, the capability of Myanmar Air Force remained questionable, due to its absent during Battle of Border Post 9631 with Thais and the rescue missions of the cyclone Nargis.
Commanders in Chief and Chiefs of Air Staff since 1948Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Air Staff in chronological order
- 1. Wing Commander Saw Shi Sho
- 2. Major Tommy Clift
- 3. Lieutenant Colonel Thura Selwyn James Khin
- 4. Brigadier General Thura Tommy Clift
- 5. Brigadier General Thaung Dan
- 6. Major General Thura Saw Phyu
- 7. Major General Ko Gyi
- 8. Lieutenant General Tin Tun
- 9. Lieutenant General Thein Win
- 10. Lieutenant General Tin Ngwe
- 11.Major General Kyaw Than
- 12.Major General Myint Swe
- 13.General Myat Hein
OrganisationsPersonnel: 23,000 all ranks (including 1 Airborne Battalion with twenty six officers and 750 other personnel of other ranks).
- Air Force headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Naypyitaw)
- Aircraft Production and Repair Base Headquarters (Mingaladon)
- Air Force - Ground Training Base (Meiktila)
- Air Force - Fly Training Base (Shante)
- Pathein Air Base HQ
- Hmawbi Air Base HQ (former 501 Air Base)
- Mingaladon Air Base HQ (former 502 Air Base)
- Magway Air Base HQ (established in 2000)
- Myitkyina Air Base HQ (former 503 Air Base)
- Myike Air Base HQ
- Namsang Air Base HQ
- Taungoo Air Base HQ
- Meikhtila (Shante) Air Base HQ - for training and operation, another airbase at Meikthila is helicopter training base.
- Homemalin Air Base HQ
Bureau of Air Defense
The Air Defence Command was formed during the late 1990s but was not fully operational until late 1999. It was renamed Bureau of Air Defense in the early 2000s (decade). In early 2000, Tatmadaw established Myanmar Integrated Air Defence System (MIADS) with help from Russia, Ukraine and China.It is a tri-service bureau with units from all three branches of Myanmar Armed Forces. All Air Defence assets except Anti-Aircraft Artillery within Tatmadaw arsenal are integrated into MIADS. AAA guns are mostly unguided and deploy to use in barrage-style firing against attacking aircraft. MIADS is directly answerable to Bureau of Air Defence under Ministry of Defence.
In 2010, Myanmar Air Defense Command has completed installation of optical fiber communication network throughout the country. Those network are to be used for Air defense operations between Central Command HQ from capital & several air bases, early warning radar stations & mobile anti air craft missile & artillery units. After completion of fiber optic project & radar stations, MIADS (Myanmar Integrated Air Defense System) becomes the most advance AD system in the region.
|Chief of Staff of Air Defence||Years||Notes|
|Lt. General Soe Win||1997–2004||Later became Prime Minister|
|Lt. General Myint Hlaing||2004–2010|
|Lt. General Sein Win||2010 - current|
Sector Operations Commands
Under MIADS, the country was divided into six Air Defense Sectors, each controlled by a Sector Operations Center (SOC) and reporting directly to the National Air Defense Operations Center (ADOC) in Yangon. Each SOC transmitted data back to Intercept Operations Centers (IOC), which in turn controlled SAM batteries and fighter/interceptor squadrons at various Air Bases. Each IOC was optimized to direct either SAMs or fighter/interceptor aircraft against incoming enemy aircraft or missile. Each IOC was connected to observer and early warning area reporting posts (RP) via military owned underground fibre optic cable network. There were about 100 radar stations located at approximately 40 sites throughout the country. New Air Defence radars such as 1L117 radars, Galaxy Early Warning Radar and P series radars are installed in all radar stations.
Each Sector Operation Center (SOC) is commanded by a Major General and it consists of one air defense division from Myanmar Army and one fighter-interceptor wing from Myanmar Air Force. Sometimes Air Defense Frigates from Myanmar Navy also operates under the direct command of respective SOC.
Each Air Defense division is commanded by a Brigadier General and consists of three Air Defense Tactical Operations Command (TOC) and support units. One Medium Range Surface to Air Missile Tactical Operations Command (MRSAM-TOC), with three battalions equipped with Buk M-1 or Kub missile system is deployed in an Area Defense Belt role. One Short Range Air Defense Tactical Operations Command (SHORAD-TOC), with three battalions equipped with Tor M-1 missile system is deployed in a Point Defense role for critical areas such as radar stations, fighter bases and SOC headquarters. One Electronic Reconnaissance Tactical Operations Command (EIR-TOC) with 6 to 8 radar and communication companies for early warnings and interdiction detection.
Each fighter-interceptor wing commanded by a Brigadier General and is composed of three Fighter squadrons of either MiG-29 and F-7M Airguard Interceptors (ten air crafts per squadron) and their ground base support units.
|Sector Operation Centers||Headquarters||Notes|
|South Eastern SOC||Yay|
|Fighter/Interceptor Total - 81|
|Chengdu F-7M Airguard||China||fighter interceptor||25
||Possibly F-7IIK equipped with French R550 Magic missiles.|
|Chengdu FT-7S Airguard||China||fighter interceptor||6
||Possibly F-7IIK equipped with French R550 Magic missiles.|
|MiG-29 9.12B||Russia||Air-superiority fighter, multirole fighter||8
|30 mm cannon, R73 WVR AAMs, R77 and R 27 BVR AAMs, S9 and S18 rockets,500 and 250 kg bombs|
|MiG-29UB 9.51||Russia||Air-superiority fighter, multirole fighter||2
|30 mm cannon, R73 WVR AAMs, R77 and R 27 BVR AAMs, S9 and S18 rockets,500 and 250 kg bombs|
|MiG-29B||Russia||Air-superiority fighter, multirole fighter||10||30 mm cannon, R73 WVR AAMs, R77 and R 27 BVR AAMs, S9 and S18 rockets,500 and 250 kg bombs|
|MiG-29SE||Russia||Air-superiority fighter, multirole fighter||26||30 mm cannon, R73 WVR AAMs, R77 and R 27 BVR AAMs, S9 and S18 rockets,500 and 250 kg bombs|
|MiG-29UB||Russia||Air-superiority fighter, multirole fighter||4||30 mm cannon, R73 WVR AAMs, R77 and R 27 BVR AAMs, S9 and S18 rockets,500 and 250 kg bombs|
|Fighter Ground Attack Total - 47|
|Shenyang J-6||China||fighter-ground attack||1||internal cannon armament and bombs Used as a trainer for Q-5 pilots only.|
|A-5C||China||fighter-ground attack||20||30mm cannon, rocket pods and bombs|
|Xian JH-7||China||fighter-bomber||12||Negotiated with China for replacement of Nanchang Q-5 attack aircraft|
|Soko G-4 Super Galeb||Yugoslavia||ground attack/ advanced jet trainer||4||guided air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles|
|Pilatus PC-9||Switzerland||single-engine, low-wing tandem-seat turboprop training aircraft||10||Total of six underwing pylons for gun pods (e.g. FFV Uni 12.7 mm pods), rocket pods and bombs|
|Training Aircraft Total - 80|
|Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer||Switzerland||light trainer training & maritime surveillance||16||unarmed|
|Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander||UK||Maritime Surveillance||2||unarmed, supplied by India|
|Hongdu K-8 Karakorum||China||advanced jet trainer/Light attack||62||
|Transport Total - 25|
|Shaanxi Y-8D2 Cub||China||turboprop transport||4||unarmed|
|Fokker F-27 Friendship||Netherlands||turboprop transport||2||unarmed|
|Fairchild Hiller FH-227||USA||twin-engined turboprop passenger/transport aircraft||3||unarmed|
|ATR 72||France||twin-engined turboprop passenger/transport aircraft||2||VIP transportation for domestic flight ( ATR-72 and ATR-42 )|
|Antonov An-148||Russia||twin-engined jet passenger/transport aircraft||2||VIP transportation for domestic flight|
|Cessna 180 Skywagon||USA||light utility/liaison aircraft||4||unarmed|
|Cessna 550 Citation||USA||business jet/liaison aircraft||1||unarmed|
|Pilatus PC-6A/B Turbo Porter||Switzerland||liaison aircraft||5||unarmed|
|Helicopters Total - 140|
|Mil Mi-35/Mil Mi-24V (Hind-E)||USSR||Attack helicopter||60 Another 50 ordered in September 2010||Gunship - twin-barrel GSh-23L 23mm nose mounted cannon, 8 AT-6 Spiral missile, B-8V20 Rocket pods with 20 S-8 rocket S-8 80mm Rockets, S-24 240mm rockets|
|Mil Mi-17||USSR||transport helicopter||26||machine gun/gunship|
|Bell UH-1 Iroquois||USA||training helicopter||10||machine gun/gunship|
|PZL W-3 Sokół Falcon||Poland||multipurpose utility helicopter||10||twin 23 mm GSz-23Ł cannon and four pylons for weapons / gunship platform|
|Mil Mi-2||Poland||small, lightly armored transport helicopter||19||23 mm NS-23 gun, 7,62 mm machine gun and 2x 57 mm unguided rocket pods Mars-2. Optional 7,62 mm machine gun|
|HAL Dhruv Pole Star||India||utility helicopter||1||anti-armour missiles, four air-to-air missiles or four rocket pods for 70 mm and 68 mm rockets|
|Bell 205 JetRanger||USA||multipurpose utility helicopter||12||machine gun and rocket launchers?|
|Bell 206 JetRanger||USA||multipurpose utility helicopter||6||machine gun and rocket launchers?|
|Aérospatiale SA 316B Alouette III||France||light utility helicopter||9||two side-mounted machine guns|
Serials and markings
Myanmar national insignia (white triangle with yellow field in the center and borders in blue) is usually applied on six positions. The serialling system of Myanmar Air Force aircraft is suggested to serve as both – unit and individual aircraft identity, this could not be confirmed so far, however. Most of the older airplanes carried the serials with the prefix “UB” and the numbers in Burmese. Sometimes the serials were outlined in white. Combat aircraft generally carry serials in black.
|Type||Serials & Markings|
|Aérospatiale SA 316B Alouette III||dark green overall, large black serial on the boom: UB6101 (unit unknown)|
|Bell 206 JetRanger||camouflage colours unknown, serials reported to be 6201 through 6218 (unit unknown).|
|Fokker F-27 Friendship||white overall, double black cheat line along the fuselage, black serial on the forward part of the fin: 5001 (unit unknown).|
|Pilatus PC-6A/B Turbo Porter||dark earth on light earth over, sky under, white serial on the rear fuselage: 50+04 (unit unknown).|
|Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer||dark grey or dark olive green overall, black anti-glare panels in front of the cockpit, ruder checkered in black and yellow, serials in white, split by the national marking: 23+01 through 23+16 (two of original Swiss civil codes are also known: HB-HQA and HB-HQB), (Flying School).|
|Pilatus PC-9||same as Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer ; serials unknown (unit unknown).|
|Soko G-4 Super Galeb||dark olive drab over, sky under; white serial on the nose: 371, 376 (Fighter Training School/COIN Squadron).|
|Chengdu J-7 Airguard (F-7IIK)||dark grey and dark green over, light blue underneath, national markings on the top of the fin and on rear fuselage (over the trailing edge); serial in White split by the national marking: 16+22.|
|A-5||dark green/dark earth/sand over, sky under; black serial on the fin: 1503 (unit unknown, but could be the 1st Wing).|
|PZL W-3 Sokół Falcon||black or dark green overall, national marking on the fin, no serials visible.|
|Mikoyan MiG-29||"Russian" light blue overall, with "azur" blue and light Blue fields on upper surfaces; national markings on the fin and behind the cockpit; serial in Arabic characters applied in black on the fin, and repeated in Burmese characters of each side of the cockard: 27+09/2709.|
|Hongdu K-8 Karakorum||white over, red under; wings in white with red wingtips, rudder checkered in yellow and black, black serials on the fin, repeated large around the national marking on the rear fuselage: 39+07 (Flying School).|
- Myanmar Army
- Myanmar Navy
- Military Intelligence of Myanmar
- Myanmar Police Force
- Myanmar Frontier Forces
- Myoe, Maung Aung: Building the Tatmadaw
- Defence Services Historical Museum and Research Institute
- Defense Services Museum, Yangon
- Adam Baddeley (February 2011). "The AMR Regional Air Force Directory 2011". Asian Military Review. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
- Bernama News: From Thai Military Blog
- Bernama News: From Thai Military Blog
- 20 | Flightglobal Insight | World Air Forces 2011/2012
- Burma Buys 50 Fighter Jets From China
- Harbin Y-12#Military operators
- World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 333 Sheet 05