The recent crash of a Y-8F-200 military transport aircraft that killed over 100 military personnel and family members in the Andaman Sea served to highlight the poor safety record and lack of serviceability of aircraft belonging to the Myanmar Air Force.
Until the crash the Myanmar Air Force operated 6 Y-8F-200 transport aircraft. Two Y-8F-200’s were inducted in to the Myanmar Air Force as recently as 19 March 2016. The Y-8 is a medium-size, mid-range transport aircraft with a capacity for carrying 88 passengers and 20 tons of cargo during 7.3 hours of autonomous. The crashed aircraft was one of the newly acquired units from last year, it flew only 809 hours according to the Myanmar Army.
A former executive at Myanmar Aviation Ministry said many of the aircraft in Myanmar’s fleet were old and decrepit. He added “Myanmar Air Force has very bad safety performance”, wishing to remain anonymous according to international press reports.
Myanmar Air Force is known to have very high non-serviceability of aircraft due to lack of spare parts and inability of local aircraft engineers. Most foreign aircraft parts suppliers and manufacturers avoid supplying Myanmar with any spare parts as the country still remains under sanction regarding military equipment. This is also one reason why it has had to desperately rely on China, Russia and Eastern European countries for aircraft and spare parts or maintenance.
These crashes also question the operational capability of the Myanmar Air Force. Historically the Myanmar Army took the lion’s share of the defence budget and meagre sums were left for the air force and navy to share. This unfettered practice has left a capability gap within the Myanmar Air Force. A large number of Chinese origin combat aircraft such as A-5 and F-7 might remain grounded due to age and low serviceability. The Air Force often resorted to cannibalising aircraft to maintain at least some of its units. Air-to-air missiles have seldom been seen outside propaganda videos released by internet groups loyal to the military.
Recent aircraft crashes of the Myanmar Air Force:
- A Myanmar Air Force Mi-2 helicopter crashed into a hillside and burst in to flames in South-Central Bago in June 2016 killing three Myanmar Army officers.
- All five crew died when an air force Beechcraft 1900 turboprop plane burst into flames soon after taking off from the capital Naypyidaw in February last year.
- On June 2014 a MiG-29UB fighter-trainer belonging to the Myanmar Air Force crashed near Myothit, Magwe. Two pilots ejected safely.
New procurements and upgrades
In recent times the country has started to procure more advanced platforms such as JF-17 Block II Light Multi-Role Combat Aircraft from China/Pakistan. It also obtained 3 Yak-130, with another 15 to be delivered by Russia. The Air Force hopes to replace its aged F-7 fleet with the JF-17’s and use the Yak-130 to replace its A-5 ground attack aircraft.
Myanmar Air Force has also sent ten of its MiG-29’s to be upgraded in Russia. The partial upgrades retain the original N-019E fire control radar however add some new technologies and replace existing parts.
The Myanmar Air Force also agreed to purchase one Chinese built Y-9E medium transport aircraft. It can carry 98 combat troops or paratroopers or 72 injured personnel and three medics. The aircraft has a payload of 25,000 kg and a range of 5,700 km. Its service ceiling is 10,400 m.