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Myanmar - Air Force

Myanmar Air ForceFounded in the early 1950s with British assistance, the air force's primary mission was to support the army in counterinsurgency operations and to provide internal reconnaissance of insurgent activity as well as of poppy cultivation, opium trafficking, and refinery positions. The air force's capabilities have always been limited by budget allocations that have restricted the modernization of its inventory, however. As of the early 1980s comparatively obsolete equipment, much of which was poorly maintained and plagued by shortages of spare parts, formed the bulk of the force.

Reflecting its origins, the air force is roughly organized along traditional British lines, having dedicated training, combat(both air defense and counter-insurgency), transport and liaison squadrons. Separate units are responsible for ground control, communications, intelligence and administration functions. The air force works closely with the army in support of its internal security operations, both for transport and close air support. Since 1988, an attempt was made to expand its roles to include air defense. Air force assets were centrally controlled and assigned to regional commanders or operational commanders by the War Office in Rangoon. Aircraft are usually home based in the more secure central districts but are deployed as required, usually around Burma's borders.

Combat aircraft were organized into two attack squadrons in the early 1980s. These were equipped with a combination of Lockheed AT-33s supplied by the United States in the 1960s and Pilatus PC-7s, which operated in a dual strike-trainer role. Some two dozen light aircraft provided liaison and transport capabilities. There were also two training squadrons that primarily relied on Siai Marchetti SF-260MBs. Helicopters numbered approximately 43, some 14 of which had been supplied in 1975 by the United States for antinarcotics patrols. As of the early 1983 they had been integrated into the air force for a variety of military roles.

The air force was responsible for its own administration and training, but operations were conducted with the army on a unified basis. The principal air force supply and maintenance base was at Mingaladon Airport near Rangoon, where storage, repair, and overhaul activities were centered. The Flight Training School was at Meiktila. Other airfields were located at Bhamo, Hmawbi, Keng Tung, Lashio, Magwe, Mandalay, Mergui, Moulmein, Myitkyina, Sittwe, and Tavoy. The air force's strength was some 9,000 as of early 1983. By 1985, only about 50% of Burma's Air Force aircraft could fly.

Before 1988 the air force relied on modified training aircraft to perform a ground attack role. A mix of old French and US helicopters was used for reconnaissance, liaison and medical evacuation purposes. There was very limited tactical lift capability. Strategic lift was provided by converted civilian passenger aircraft used as troop transports. Burma had no air defence capability.

Since 1988 the Burma Air Force (BAF) has taken delivery of a wide range of new communications equipment (mainly radars and radios from China) and it is likely that some at least are being used for intelligence-gathering purposes. The BAF reportedly operates both Radar Regiments and Electronic Battalions, both of which probably have a SIGINT role. BAF personnel from these units are posted not only to major airfields, such as Mingaladon, Hmawbi and Myitkyina, but also to strategic sites around the country's periphery, like Namhsan, Kutkai and Loi Mwe.

Burma possesses a modest Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) capability. For example, the BAF can take aerial photographs from cameras fixed uncer its converted fighter and transport aircraft. They also have imagery platforms in Beechcraft Queen Air and Cessna 550 aircraft. There has been speculation that Burma has intelligence sharing agreements with perhaps China and Singapore.

By 2015 the Myanmar Air Force was composed of 23,000 personnel. It was primarily responsible for the air defence of Myanmar and counter insurgency operations in support of the ground forces. The force was plagued by serviceability issues due to lack of spare parts and trained manpower. By 2015 there were 10 operational air bases in Myanmar where its inventory of up to 32 MiG-29B and MiG-29SEs are stationed along with 25 older F-7M, 21 Nanchang A-5C and a mix of 16 Chinese and Serbian jet trainers used for ground attack roles besides providing pilot training.

The air force is also equipped with 9 Mi-35 attack helicopters over 90 transport and utility helicopters. In recent times it acquired Chinese 11 Sky 02A UAVs to perform basic surveillance missions. Another 24 were built in-country as Yellow Cat A2. The fixed wing transportation fleet consisted of 4 Shaanxi Y-8, 2 Fokker F-27, 2 ATR-72, 2 Harbin Y-12 and 5 Pilatus PC-6. Maritime surveillance was conducted by 5 unarmed Britten-Norman Islander aircraft transferred by India.



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