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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.

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 U.S. 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 SLORC has acquired F-7 and A-5 aircraft from China for air defense and ground attack, G-4 counter-insurgency aircraft from Yugoslavia, and F-6 trainers and Y-8 transports also from China. Some of the helicopters purchased from Poland and Russia serve as gunships and provide improved tactical airlift capabilities. There are reports that the SLORC is also interested in purchasing 10 MiG-29 fighters from Russia, to give it an air-interceptor capability. There are also reports that the air force is seeking to upgrade its maritime surveillance capabilities.

Like its sister services, the Air Force benefited from the 1988 expansion. Previous aircraft were limited to old transport and training aircraft modified locally for ground attack. There were some helicopters donated by the U. S. for a counter-narcotics program. All aircraft had suffered from lack of adequate maintenance and parts. Only a small portion of these aircraft were airworthy. The post-1988 acquisition program purchases of tactical aircraft were estimated to include three squadrons of F-7 fighters, two squadrons of A5 fighter/attack aircraft, and several FT-7 and F-6 trainers from China. Myanmar was rearmed with Chinese military equipment worth some $2 billion in the 1990s. China agreed to support an ambitious military expansion and modernisation program launched by the SLORC in 1989. By 1992, China had delivered at least one squadron of F-7 "Airguard" fighters. The regime purchased from Beijing 48 NAMC A-5C fighters, 14 Karakoum-8 jet assault and trainer planes, and a variety of other transportation and training aircraft. In 2000, the SPDC acquired 52 Chengdu F-7M Airguard fighters. Pilots have reportedly complained about the performance and reliability of the Chinese-made jets.

Four Yugoslavian G-4 counter-insurgency aircraft were also purchased. The former Yugoslavia supplied the military regime with 12 SOKO G-4 Super Gale ground assault aircraft and provided training for the regime's air force personnel. Several Russian MiG-29 interceptors may have been ordered.

The purchase of tactical transport aircraft is thought to have included two to three squadrons of Polish Mi-2 and Sokol W-3 medium helicopters, and approximately two squadrons of Mi-17 utility helicopters from Russia. There has been interest expressed in purchasing some attack helicopters from Russia and China. Burma has acquired four Y-8 medium lift transports from China. Aircraft facilities are also being upgraded significantly.

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.

In late December 2009 a 400 million-euro ($570 mln) contract was signed for the delivery of Russian MiG-29 fighters for the Myanmar Air Force. The Russian bid to supply MiG-29 Fulcrum-D carrier-based fighter jets beat China's offer to sell its latest J-10 and FC-1 fighters. The country bought 12 MiG-29 fighters in 2001, but this contract is the largest since the 2007 unfulfilled contract to supply Algeria with 34 MiG-29 fighters.

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 has been made to expand its roles to include air defense. Air force assets are 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.

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