On 22 April, the Tatmadaw Lei (Myanmar Air Force) Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing visited the Irkutsk Aviation Plant located at Irkutsk, Russia. The Senior-General was in Russia to attend the 8th Moscow Conference on International Security. The Senior-General was shown the first assembled Sukhoi Su-30SME, although still in primer, destined for the Myanmar Air Force. According to the information given, the aircraft already finished its maiden flight and is reported to be delivered to Myanmar Air Force soon.
In January 2018, it was officially reported that Myanmar ordered six Sukhoi Su-30SME's. Myanmar signed the agreement during a visit of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to the Asian country. This export version is an upgraded modern platform based on the Russian Su-30SM. Jane’s Defense reported that the Sukhoi Su-30SME export version will have a normal take-off weight of 26,090 kg and a maximal take-off weight of 34,000 kg. the operational range is quoted as 1,280 km and the top speed is said to be Mach 1.75. The Su-30SME uses two AL-31FP afterburning jet engines with thrust vectoring nozzles for enhanced directional control. These two powerplants give the aircraft a combat payload of up to 8,000 kg spread among twelve external hardpoints on the fuselage and wings.
A source citing the Kommersant newspaper reported that the value of the contract is estimated at $400 million. Some sources from Myanmar quoting each individual Su-30SME aircrafts to be worth $34 million.
On November 6, 2018, Viktor Kladov, the head of the delegation of the Rostec State Corporation at the Zhuhai Airshow - 2018 exhibition in China, announced the deal is already signed and there’s an ongoing contract with Myanmar for the supply of six Su-30SME.
He also added that Russia had begun to exercise the option to supply six more Yak-130 combat training aircraft to Myanmar (previously Russia had supplied 10 Yak-130 combat training aircraft to Myanmar as part of the basic contract).
Myanmar’s recent Russian military hardware procurements include the MiG-29 fighter jets, Yak-130 combat trainers, Mi-17, Mi-24 and Mi-35 combat helicopters and other weapons. The Su-30SME is a 4+ generation fighter jet and is capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with a wide variety of precision-guided munitions.
In meantime Myanmar Air Force is also vying to get their hands on Pakistani JF-17 Thunders, of which neither side have disclosed the number, and update their existing fleet of JF-17 Thunders from Block II to Block III.
The choice of JF-17 is logical as Myanmar Air Force have aircrafts that are faulty and dangerous to operate and need replacing such as the F-7. Besides, the MiG-29 and the JF-17 uses similar engines and this could prove one point in terms of logistics as Myanmar already have 20 MiG-29Ds. However, the JF-17 has much better capabilities than the F-7 which can be availed at a lower unit cost, which is $16-20 million depending on the requirements. The other areas which affects their decision is the maintenance cost. The MiG-29 is expensive to operate while the F-7 requires a large number of ground crew to maintain it and it require repairs too often. The JF-17 fits the bill for Myanmar as it was used in combat missions against terrorist targets in Pakistan’s War on Terror and its low unit cost and maintenance cost means the choice is financially feasible as compared to operating MiG-29 and the F-7. Also to consider is the support provided by the Russian counterpart for the MiGs. The support is known to disastrously delayed in some cases. This was the same issue that relates to the Malaysian MiG-29s, the concern was so serious that the PM of Malaysia went to Russia and directly approached President Putin for intervening in the matter. The supply chain is just too long at times which makes some of the MiG-29 go out of service for many weeks until parts arrive from Russia. The purchase of the JF-17 is a reliable alternative for Myanmar Air Force as it suffers from inconsistent Russian support.
The JF-17 Thunder Block III, which has been in development for over 2 years now is characterized by an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, helmet-mounted targeting system, an advanced targeting pod, data links and beyond visual range weapons. With less than half the price of the latest generation F-16 fighter jet and features similar to that of the venerable US aircraft, it is expected that the JF-17 Block III will attract countries with tight defense budgets looking for a reliable aircraft which makes it an ideal aircraft for Myanmar Air Force to make it their main fighter aircraft even though no official words had yet been expressed on the matter.
[Scramble Magazine, Jane’s Defence, The Irrawady]