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 emblem
Founded 15 December 1947[1]
Country  Myanmar
Branch Air Force
Role Air Defence, Counter Insurgency
Size 23,000 personnel
230 aircraft[2]
Part of Myanmar Armed Forces
Nickname(s) Tatmadaw Lei
Minister of Defence Lt. General Wai Lwin
Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces Sr. General Min Aung Hlaing
Commander-in-Chief (Air) General Khin Aung Myint
Roundel Roundel of the Myanmar Air Force.svg
Ensign Myanmar Air Force Flag.svg
Ensign (1948-1974) Air Force Ensign of Burma (1948-1974).svg
Aircraft flown
Attack A-5M
Bomber A-5M
Fighter F-7M Airguard
Helicopter Mil Mi-35
Interceptor Mikoyan MiG-29
Reconnaissance Soko G-4 Super Galeb
Trainer PC-7, K-8W
Transport Y-8D, ATR 42

The Myanmar Air Force (Burmese: တပ်မတော် (လေ), pronounced: [taʔmədɔ̀ lè]) is the aerial branch of Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw. It is mainly used in counter-insurgency campaigns, and, on a smaller, scale, in relief missions[citation needed], especially after the deadly Cyclone Nargis of May 2008.


Post Independence era (1948-1990)[edit]

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

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 Myanmar.[3]

In 1953, Myanmar Air Force bought 30 Supermarine Spitfires from Israel and 20 Supermarine Seafires from the United Kingdom; and 40 Hunting Provost T-53 and 8 de Havilland Vampire Mark T55s from the United Kingdom in 1954. 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 Myanmar Air Force bought 10 Cessna 180 aircraft from the United States. The same year, six Kawasaki Bell 47Gs formed its first helicopter fleet. The following year, Myanmar 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 Myanmar Air Force. Intruding bomber and one MAF fighter crashed into Thailand.[4]

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 Air Force had 323 officers and 5677 other ranks and it acquired Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star jet trainers and a new radar station, which could operate within a 120-mile 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 radius and renamed to No.71 Squadron. In the same year Myanmar Air Force formed the No. 1 Airborne Battalion with 26 officers and 750 other ranks.[5]

On 1 January 1967, the Myanmar Air Force reorganised 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. 502 Air Base HQ in Meiktila. It also maintained airfield detachments in Lashio and Kengtung to cope with the insurgency of Burmese Communicaty Party in the northeast border region of the country.[3]

In 1975 the Myanmar 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 Myanmar 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 for counter insurgency operations.[3]

Modernisation programme (1990 - present)[edit]

In the early 1990s, the Myanmar 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. Myanmar Air Force bought more than 100 aircraft from 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 December 1990, Myanmar Air Force took the first delivery 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, 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, Myanmar Air Force took delivery of 36 A-5C Ground Attack Aircraft from China. In addition, Myanmar Air Force also bought 20 Soko G-4 Super Galeb armed jet trainers from Yugoslavia in 1991.

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 Irrawaddy delta. 4 Mil Mi-2, 4 PZL W-3 Sokol and 2 Bell 205 helicopters were grouped as an air detachment stationed in Bogalay for "Operation Monediang" in October 1991. During this operation, Mil Mi-2 were fitted with a wide range of weapons to provide ground attack and air cover for heliborne Air Assault operations. 4 Mil Mi-2 of the air detachment made a total of 80 sorties over 17 targets with nearly 82 flying hours. 4 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 carried out search and rescue, and they flew 263 missions with over 114 flying hours.[3]

In 2001, 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 additional order of 20 MiG-29 (10 MiG-29B, 6 MiG-29SE and 4 MiG-29UB )as part of $570 Million defence package in December 2009. Myanmar Air Force also ordered 10 Mil Mi-35 gunship helicopters as part of $71 Million defence package signed in December,2009.[6]

Despite these modernisation measures, the capability of Myanmar Air Force remained questionable, due to its absent during Battle of Border Post 9631 with Thais and the rescue missions of the cyclone Nargis.

Pakistan's Ministry of Defence said that a contract had been signed for Islamabad to sell the JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, which was jointly developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, to Naypyidaw, Islamabad's Capital Television reported on 18 March.

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

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

  1. Wing Commander Saw Shi Sho BAF-1020
  2. Major Tommy Clift
  3. Lieutenant Colonel Thura Selwyn James Khin
  4. Brigadier General Thura Tommy Clift
  5. Brigadier General Thaung Dan
  6. Major General Thura Saw Phyu BAF-1047
  7. Major General Ko Gyi
  8. Lieutenant General Tin Tun BAF-1127
  9. Lieutenant General Thein Win BAF-1193
  10. Lieutenant General Tin Ngwe BAF-1312
  11. Lieutenant General Kyaw Than BAF-1334
  12. Major General Myint Swe
  13. General Myat Hein BAF-1597 DSA-11
  14. General Khin Aung Myint


Personnel: 23,000 all ranks (including 1 Airborne 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 Squardron
  • 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.[5]

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 - current

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.[7]

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.[7]

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 tarmac
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[8]
Nanchang Q-5 People's Republic of China attack A-5B 21[8]
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China fighter F-7M 24[8] licensed built MiG-21
Shenyang J-6 People's Republic of China fighter F-6 1[8] Chinese-built version of the MiG-19
Soko G-4 Yugoslavia light attack / jet trainer 4[8]
Shaanxi Y-8 China transport 4[8]
Harbin Y-12 China transport 2[8]
F-27 Netherlands transport 2[8]
ATR-42 France VIP 1[9]
FH-227 United States transport 2[8]
BN-2 United Kingdom utility / transport 5[8]
Beech 1900 United States utility / transport 3[8]
Pilatus PC-6 Switzerland utility / transport 5[8] STOL capable aircraft
Mil Mi-2 Poland utility / liaison 22[8]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility 12[8]
Bell UH-1 United States utility 14[8]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-35 9[8]
Alouette III France utility 13[8]
W-3 Sokół Poland utility 13[8]
Trainer Aircraft
Chengdu J-7 China conversion trainer FT-7 6[8]
Hongdu JL-8 China jet trainer K-8 18[8] [10] 50 on order[8]
PC-7 Switzerland light trainer 16[8]
PC-9 Switzerland trainer 10[8]
Grob G 120TP Germany trainer unknown[11]


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mynamar 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 Myoe, Maung Aung: Building the Tatmadaw
  4. ^ "Intrusions, Overflights, Shootdowns and Defections During the Cold War and Thereafter." Retrieved: 28 May 2013.
  5. ^ a b Defence Services Historical Museum and Research Institute
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Defense Services Museum, Yangon
  8. ^ 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 2015 pg. 23". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Myanmar Air Force Fleet". Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Military Chief Touts Air Force Procurement". The Irrawaddy. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  • 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