It is no secret that currently the Bangladesh Armed Force have major deficiencies in air combat capabilities. The Bangladesh Air Force with its motto “Free shall we keep the sky of Bangladesh” operates just 8 BVR-engagement capable MiG-29SE air superiority fighters whilst the rest of the combat fleet is comprised of Chinese MiG-21 copies, albeit mostly newer varieties.
To be fair the Bangladesh Air Force suffered a number of crisis including coups, major aircraft loss to a cyclone and political vendetta that turned this once proud force in to a shadow of its former self. However the hiatus should have been long over had there been competent leadership at the helm of the BAF. Whilst the nation’s Air Force continued to bask in uncertainty neighbouring countries have positioned multirole combat aircraft such as Su-30MKI and MiG-29 close to Bangladesh’s borders. They have long left behind the Bangladesh Air Force in their smoke trail to reach the heights of air dominance.
The ongoing Rohingya crisis created by Myanmar has resulted in over 600,000 minority Muslims from the neighbouring country crossing in to Bangladesh. There have been at least 19 airspace violations by Myanmar Air Force thus far. The Bangladesh Government ordered the Air Force not to flinch at provocations by Myanmar however given the current state of the Bangladesh Air Force it is hardly in a position to repulse any Myanmar aggression. The Bangladesh Army and Navy feel let down as they have maintained the military capability to counter Myanmar’s Army and Navy effectively.
The once impotent Myanmar Air Force today boasts 31 MiG-29 fighter aircraft, 11 of which were upgraded with multirole capability. They deploy 12 of these in Sittwe, not far from Bangladesh’s sea side town of Cox’s Bazar. These aircraft can threaten Chittagong and the country’s main port where 90% of Bangladesh’s maritime trade plies through. If this choke point is successfully attacked it could potentially disrupt Bangladesh’s economic progress and set the country back years. The Myanmar Air Force is also taking delivery of 16 FC-1 and is planning to purchase a couple of squadrons of MiG-35 and Su-25 combat aircraft from Russia.
At present the Bangladesh Government spends just 1.2% of the country’s GDP on defence. This is the lowest in South Asia. Comparatively neighbouring India spends 2.5% and Myanmar spends 3% respectively. Former wing of Pakistan spends 3.9% and maintains an impressive air force to boot.
Modernisation in the Bangladesh Air Force
The present government in Dhaka has realised the importance of maintaining a strong defence capability – or at least that is what they keep telling us! However all of the procurements purely focused on equipment designed for facilitating training, United Nations peacekeeping and disaster management. In preparation for receiving MRCA’s the Bangladesh Air Force inducted 16 Yak-130 with an option to purchase 8 more aircraft with deliveries for the first 16 completed by the beginning of 2017. One Yak-130 was already lost due to failure of the digital FBW system a few months ago.