Myanmar Air Force

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Myanmar Air Force / Burmese Air Force
Tatmadaw Lei
Emblem of the Myanmar Air Force.svg
Myanmar Air Force's emblem
Founded 15 December 1947; 70 years ago (1947-12-15)[1]
Country  Myanmar
Type Air force
Role Aerial warfare
Size 23,000 personnel
277 aircraft[2]
Part of Myanmar Armed Forces
Nickname(s) Tatmadaw Lei
Minister of Defence Lt. General Sein Win
Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces Sr. General Min Aung Hlaing
Commander-in-Chief (Air) General Maung Maung Kyaw
Roundel Roundel of Myanmar.svg
Flag Air Force Ensign of Myanmar.svg
Ensign (1948–1974) Air Force Ensign of Burma (1948-1974).svg
Aircraft flown
Attack A-5M
Fighter Chengdu J-7
Helicopter Mil Mi-35, Mil Mi-17
Interceptor Mikoyan MiG-29
Reconnaissance Soko G-4 Super Galeb
Trainer Yak-130, PC-7, K-8W, Grob G 120TP
Transport Y-8D, Y 8F200, ATR 42

The Myanmar Air Force (Burmese: တပ်မတော် (လေ), pronounced [taʔmədɔ̀ lè]), known until 1989 as the Burmese Air Force, is the aerial branch of Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw. The primary mission of the Myanmar Air Force since its inception has been to provide transport, logistical, and close air support to the Myanmar Army in counter-insurgency operations.[3] It is mainly used in internal conflicts in Myanmar, and, on a smaller scale, in relief missions[citation needed], especially after the deadly Cyclone Nargis of May 2008.

Currently, Myanmar’s air force has suffered a string of fatal accidents over the past couple years, even as top brass have gone on an overseas spending spree. Although around 13 percent of the nation’s budget (over 2 billion dollars) is spent on its military, a lot of the Chinese jet fighters used in Myanmar's air force are not actively flying because some are out of date and some need major overhaul. Myanmar Civilians are now so afraid of these outdated air crafts crashed into nearby them and their houses and also disappointed the capabilities of the equipment used in Myanmar armed forces. [4]


Post Independence era (1948–1990)[edit]

The Myanmar Air Force was formed as the Burmese Air Force on 16 January 1947, while Burma (as Myanmar was known until 1989) was still under British rule. By 1948, the fleet of the new air force included 40 Airspeed Oxfords, 16 de Havilland Tiger Moths, four Austers, and three Supermarine Spitfires transferred from the Royal Air Force, and had a few hundred personnel.[3]

The Mingaladon Air Base HQ, the main air base in the country, was formed on 16 June 1950. No.1 Squadron, Equipment Holding Unit and Air High Command - Burma Air Force, and the Flying Training School, were placed under the jurisdiction of the base. A few months later, on 18 December 1950, No. 2 Squadron was formed with nine Douglas Dakotas as a transport squadron. In 1953, the Advanced Flying Unit was formed under the Mingaladon Air Base with de Havilland Vampire T55s, and by the end of 1953 the Burmese Air Force had three main airbases, at Mingaladon, Hmawbi, and Meiktila, in central Burma.[3]

In 1953, the Burmese Air Force bought 30 Supermarine Spitfires from Israel and 20 Supermarine Seafires from the United Kingdom, and in 1954 it bought 40 Hunting Provost T-53s and eight de Havilland Vampire Mark T55s from the United Kingdom. In late 1955, the Burmese Air Force formed a Maintenance Air Base in Mingaladon, No. 501 Squadron Group (Hmawbi Airbase) and No. 502 Squadron Group (Mingaladon Air Base). In 1956, the Burmese Air Force bought 10 Cessna 180 aircraft from the United States. The same year, six Kawasaki Bell 47Gs formed its first helicopter unit. The following year, the Burmese Air Force procured 21 Hawker Sea Fury aircraft from the United Kingdom and nine de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otters from Canada. In 1958, it procured seven additional Kawasaki Bell 47Gs and 12 Vertol H-21 Shawnees from the United States.[3] Five years later, No. 503 Squadron Group was formed with No. 51 Squadron (de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otters and Cessna 180s) and No. 53 Squadron (Bell 47Gs, Kaman HH-43 Huskies, and Aérospatiale Alouettes) in Meiktila.[3]

On 15 February 1961, an unmarked Republic of China Air Force Consolidated PB4Y Privateer came into Burmese air space carrying supplies for Chinese Kuomintang forces fighting in northern Burma, and was intercepted by three Hawker Sea Fury fighters of the Burmese Air Force. The intruding bomber and one Burmese fighter crashed in Thailand during the incident.[5]

In 1962, a new radar station in Mingaladon and a mobile radar station in Lwemwe (near Tachileik) were put into operation. By December 1964, the Burmese Air Force had 323 officers and 5,677 other ranks and it acquired Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star jet trainers and a new radar station, which could operate within a 120-mile (193-km) radius, was opened in Namsang. In 1966, the radar arm of the air force underwent a complete overhaul and upgrade, with new radar stations being operated. The Namsang Radar station was upgraded to cover about a 200-mile (322-km) radius and renamed No.71 Squadron. In the same year, the Burmese Air Force formed the No. 1 Airborne Battalion with 26 officers and 750 other ranks.[6]

On 1 January 1967, the Burmese Air Force reorganized its command structure. No. 501 Squadron Group in Hmawbi became No. 501 Air Base HQ; No. 502 Squadron Group in Mingalardon became No. 502 Air Base HQ; and No. 503 Squadron Group in Meiktila became No. 503 Air Base HQ in Meiktila. It also maintained airfield detachments in Lashio and Kengtung to cope with the insurgency of Communist Party of Burma in the northeast border region of the country.[3]

In 1975, the Burmese Air Force took delivery of 18 Bell 205A and seven Bell 206B helicopters from the United States under the International Narcotic Control Program (INCP). In March 1975, it bought 20 SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainers from Italy.[3]

Between 1976 and 1987, the Burmese Air Force bought seven Pilatus PC-6 Turbo porter STOL aircraft; and 16 Pilatus PC-7 and 10 Pilatus PC-9 turboprop trainers from Switzerland. These aircraft were deployed in Lashio for close air support in counter-insurgency operations.[3]

Modernisation programme (1990–present)[edit]

In the early 1990s, the Burmese Air Force upgraded its facilities and introduced two new air base headquarters and existing air base headquarters were renamed. It also significantly upgraded its radar and electronic warfare facilities. The Burmese Air Force bought more than 100 aircraft from the People's Republic of China, which included F7 IIK interceptors, FT-7 Trainers, A-5C Ground Attack Aircraft, FT-6M trainers, K-8 trainers and Y-8 transport aircraft.

In 1989, the Burmese Air Force was renamed the Myanmar Air Force in accordance with the country changing its name from Burma to Myanmar.

In December 1990, the Myanmar Air Force took the first delivery from China of 10 F7 IIK interceptors and two FT-7 Trainers followed by another batch of 12 F7 IIK interceptors in May 1993. Further deliveries of F7 IIK interceptors were made in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

By 2000, the Myanmar Air Force has received 62 F7 IIK interceptors from China.[3] Israel was contracted to refurbish and upgrade all operational F-7s and FT-7s: these were to get the Elta EL/M-2032 air-to-air radar, Rafael Python Mk. III and even Litening laser-designator pods. The same equipment was then installed on the two-seater FT-7 fighter trainers as well. In a related deal, Israel delivered to Myanmar at least one consignment of laser-guided bombs, but no deliveries of any other weapons are known. Since the Elbit contract was won in 1997, the air force has acquired at least one more squadron of F-7 and FT-7 aircraft from China, but these were not upgraded.

Between 1992 and 2000, the Myanmar Air Force took delivery of 36 A-5C Ground Attack Aircraft from China. In addition, the Myanmar Air Force also bought 20 Soko G-4 Super Galeb armed jet trainers from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The Myanmar Air Force procured a range of helicopters from Russia and Poland between 1991 and 1997; it bought 20 PZL-Swidnik Mil Mi-2 and 13 PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters from Poland and 13 Mil Mi-17 from Russia. These helicopters were put into counter-insurgency operations against ethnic rebels in the Irrawaddy River delta. Four Mil Mi-2, four PZL W-3 Sokol, and two Bell 205 helicopters were grouped as an air detachment stationed in Bogalay for "Operation Monediang" in October 1991. During this operation, Mil Mi-2 helicopters were fitted with a wide range of weapons to provide ground attack and air cover for heliborne air assault operations. Four Mil Mi-2s of the air detachment made a total of 80 sorties over 17 targets with nearly 82 flying hours. Four PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters, unarmed and used for troop transport carrying 20 airborne commandos, each flew 443 missions with 197 flying hours. Bell 205 helicopters carried out search and rescue, and they flew 263 missions with over 114 flying hours.[3]

In 2001, the Myanmar Air Force bought 12 MiG-29 Fighter Aircraft (10 MiG-29Bs and two MiG-29UB two seats trainers)[3] from Belarus. This was followed by an additional order of 20 MiG-29 (10 MiG-29B, 6 MiG-29SE and 4 MiG-29UB) as part of a $570 million defence package in December 2009. The Myanmar Air Force also ordered 10 Mil Mi-35 gunship helicopters as part of a $71 million defence package signed in December 2009.[7]

Despite these modernisation measures, the capability of the Myanmar Air Force remained questionable, due to its absence during the Battle of Border Post 9631 with Thailand and the rescue missions related to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

A contract had been signed in December 2015 with Pakistan for the purchase of JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter, which was jointly developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, to Myanmar Air Force. However is Mar 2018 it was reported that the deal for the purchase of JF-17 Thunder has been suspended by Pakistan.[8]

Commanders in Chief and Chiefs of Air Staff since 1948[edit]

Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Air Staff in chronological order

ID Rank Name Serial
1 Wing commander Saw Shi Sho BAF1020
2 Major Tommy Clift (T. Clift) BAF1005
3 Lieutenant Colonel Thura Selwyn James Khin BAF1009
4 Brigadier General Thura Tommy Clift BAF1005
5 Brigadier general Thaung Dan BAF1042
6 Major General Thura Saw Phyu BAF1047
7 Major General Ko Gyi BAF1059
8 Lieutenant General Tin Tun BAF1127
9 Lieutenant General Thein Win BAF1193
10 Lieutenant General Tin Ngwe BAF1312
11 Lieutenant General Kyaw Than BAF1334
12 Major General Myint Swe
13 General Myat Hein BAF1597
14 General Khin Aung Myint BAF1754
15 General Maung Maung Kyaw BAF1925


Personnel: 23,000 all ranks (including 1 Airborne (Paratroop) Battalion with twenty six officers and 750 other personnel of other ranks).[3]

  • Air Force headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Naypyitaw)
  • Aircraft Production and Repair Base Headquarters (Mingaladon)
  • Air Force - Ground Training Base (Meiktila)
  • Air Force - Fly Training Base (Shante)

Air Bases[edit]

  • Pathein Air Base HQ
  • Hmawbi Air Base HQ (former 501 Air Base)
  • Mingaladon Air Base HQ (former 502 Air Base)
  • Magway Air Base HQ (established in 2000)
  • Myitkyina Air Base HQ (former 503 Air Base)
  • Myeik Air Base HQ
  • Namsang Air Base HQ
  • Taungoo Air Base HQ - No.47 Helicopter Squadron
  • Meikhtila (Shante) Air Base HQ - for training and operation, another airbase at Meikthila is helicopter training base.
  • Homemalin Air Base HQ

Myanmar Air Force also utilised civilian airfields as front-line air fields in case of foreign invasion.

Air Defence[edit]

Bureau of Air Defence[edit]

The Air Defence Command was formed during the late 1990s but was not fully operational until late 1999. It was renamed Bureau of Air Defence in the early 2000s (decade). In early 2000, Tatmadaw established Myanmar Integrated Air Defence System (MIADS) with help from Russia, Ukraine and China.It is a tri-service bureau with units from all three branches of Myanmar Armed Forces. All Air Defence assets except Anti-Aircraft Artillery within Tatmadaw arsenal are integrated into MIADS. AAA guns are mostly unguided and deploy to use in barrage-style firing against attacking aircraft. MIADS is directly answerable to Bureau of Air Defence under Ministry of Defence.[6]

In 2010, Myanmar Air Defence Command has completed installation of optical fibre communication network throughout the country. Those network are to be used for Air defence operations between Central Command HQ from capital & several air bases, early warning radar stations & mobile anti air craft missile & artillery units. After completion of fibre optic project & radar stations, MIADS (Myanmar Integrated Air Defence System) becomes the most advance AD system in the region.

Chief of Staff of Air Defence Years Notes
Lt. General Soe Win 1997–2004 Later became Prime Minister
Lt. General Myint Hlaing 2004–2010
Lt. General Sein Win 2010 - 2016 Became Minister of Defence
Lt. General Tin Maung Win 2016 -

Sector Operations Commands[edit]

Under MIADS, the country was divided into six Air Defence Sectors, each controlled by a Sector Operations Centre (SOC) and reporting directly to the National Air Defence Operations Centre (ADOC) in Yangon. Each SOC transmitted data back to Intercept Operations Centers (IOC), which in turn controlled SAM batteries and fighter/interceptor squadrons at various Air Bases. Each IOC was optimised to direct either SAMs or fighter/interceptor aircraft against incoming enemy aircraft or missile. Each IOC was connected to observer and early warning area reporting posts (RP) via military owned underground fibre optic cable network. There were about 100 radar stations located at approximately 40 sites throughout the country. New Air Defence radars such as 1L117 radars, Galaxy Early Warning Radar and P series radars are installed in all radar stations.[9]

Each Sector Operation Centre (SOC) is commanded by a Major General and it consists of one air defence division from Myanmar Army and one fighter-interceptor wing from Myanmar Air Force. Sometimes Air Defence Frigates from Myanmar Navy also operates under the direct command of respective SOC.

Each Air Defence division is commanded by a Brigadier General and consists of three Air Defence Tactical Operations Command (TOC) and support units. One Medium Range Surface to Air Missile Tactical Operations Command (MRSAM-TOC), with three battalions equipped with Buk M-1 or Kub missile system is deployed in an Area Defence Belt role. One Short Range Air Defence Tactical Operations Command (SHORAD-TOC), with three battalions equipped with Tor M-1 missile system is deployed in a Point Defence role for critical areas such as radar stations, fighter bases and SOC headquarters. One Electronic Reconnaissance Tactical Operations Command (EIR-TOC) with 6 to 8 radar and communication companies for early warnings and interdiction detection.

Each fighter-interceptor wing commanded by a Brigadier General and is composed of three Fighter squadrons of either MiG-29 and F-7M Airguard Interceptors (ten air crafts per squadron) and their ground base support units.[9]

Sector Operation Centres Headquarters Notes
Northern SOC Myitkyina
Southern SOC Myeik
Western SOC Sittwe
Eastern SOC Tachilek
South Eastern SOC Ye, Myanmar
Central SOC Meiktila


Current inventory[edit]

A MiG-29B sits on the apron
A Shaanxi Y-8 lifts off from Yangon International Airport
A Nanchang A-5C Fantan
A Myanmar Air Force Fokker F27
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-29 Russia multirole 31[10] 16 active
Sukhoi Su-30 Russia multirole Su-30SME 6 on order[11]
Nanchang Q-5 People's Republic of China Ground-attack aircraft A-5 21[10]
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China fighter F-7M 22[10] Licensed built MiG-21.Two aircraft crashed on 16 October 2018 reduced the aircraft inventory from 24 to 22.[12]
Shenyang J-6 People's Republic of China fighter F-6 1[10] Chinese-built version of the MiG-19
ATR-42 France VIP 3[10][13]
Shaanxi Y-8 China transport 5[10]
Harbin Y-12 China transport 2[10]
Fokker F-70 Netherlands VIP 2 [13][14]
Fokker F-27 Netherlands transport 1[10]
Beechcraft 1900 United States utility / transport 5[10]
Pilatus PC-6 Switzerland utility / transport 5[10] STOL capable aircraft
Mil Mi-2 Poland utility / liaison 21[10]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility 12[10]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-35P 9[10]
Bell UH-1 United States utility 14[10]
Alouette III France utility 13[10]
PZL W-3 Sokół Poland utility 12[10]
Eurocopter EC120 France utility / training 4[15]
Trainer Aircraft
Hongdu JL-8 China / Pakistan Advanced Trainer/ Light fighter K-8 36[16] [10]
Soko G-4 Yugoslavia Advanced trainer / ground-attack aircraft 3[10]
Yak-130 Russia Advanced trainer/Light fighter 8 10 on order[10][17][18]
Chengdu J-7 China conversion trainer FT-7 6[10]
Pilatus PC-7 Switzerland light trainer 16[10]
Pilatus PC-9 Switzerland advanced trainer 10[10]
G 120TP Germany basic trainer 20[10]


Myanmar national insignia (white triangle with yellow field in the centre and borders in blue) is usually applied on six positions. The serialling system of Myanmar Air Force aircraft is suggested to serve as both – unit and individual aircraft identity, this could not be confirmed so far, however. Most of the older aeroplanes carried the serials with the prefix "UB" and the numbers in Burmese. Sometimes the serials were outlined in white. Combat aircraft generally carry serials in black.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

On 7 June 2017, a Shaanxi Y-8 was reported missing 30 nautical miles (56 km) west to Dawei. The aircraft was carrying 122 people. There were no survivors.

An F-7 fighter aircraft of Taungoo Air Base has crashed into a farm near KyunKone Village in Taungoo on 3 April 2018. It is learned that the F-7, which is used as a training aircraft, was believed to have crashed while trying to land the ground at around 11:30 am. It is reported that a pilot was killed on the spot during the crash.[citation needed]

On 16 October 2018, two Myanmar F-7Ms crashed near Magway, Myanmar, killing both pilots and an 11-year-old girl. Both F-7Ms struck a broadcast tower. One plummeted into a rice paddy, while the other nose-dived near a famous Buddhist pagoda in the Magway region of central Myanmar. An 11-year-old girl, Thwal Zin Nyein, was killed when debris from one of the jets struck her as she was studying outside at a private school.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Myanmar Air Force - Narrative History". Aeroflight. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  2. ^ "Flightglobal - World Air Forces 2015" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Myoe, Maung Aung: Building the Tatmadaw
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ "Intrusions, Overflights, Shootdowns and Defections During the Cold War and Thereafter." Retrieved: 28 May 2013.
  6. ^ a b Defence Services Historical Museum and Research Institute
  7. ^ "Russia, Burma sign arms deal". 23 December 2009. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Defense Services Museum, Yangon
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "World Air Forces 2018". Flightglobal Insight. 2018. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  11. ^ "Moscow to deliver six Su-30 fighter aircraft to Myanmar". TASS. 22 January 2018. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Zin Win, Kyaw (16 December 2017). "Military chief commissions 10 airplanes while calling for more". Eleven Myanmar. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  14. ^ Davis, Anthony. "MAF's newly inducted aircraft to boost service's COIN capabilities". IHS Jane's 360. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  15. ^ "Vice Senior General Soe Win attends launching of new aircrafts [sic] and helicopters". Global Newslight of Myanmar. Myanmar News Agency. 15 December 2016. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  16. ^ "Trade Registers". Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  17. ^ Davis, Anthony (8 February 2018). "Myanmar Air Force to receive more Yak-130 aircraft". IHS Jane's 360. Bangkok. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  18. ^ "Russia to Deliver 6 Additional Yak-130 Aircraft to Myanmar". Sputnik News. Singapore. 7 February 2018. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  • Hoyle, Craig. "World Air Forces Directory". Flight International, Vol. 182, No. 5370, 11–17 December 2012. pp. 40–64. ISSN 0015-3710.
  • World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 333 Sheet 05