The present generation of warfare relies on a variety of components. Any side involved in combat needs to effectively utilise the available assets in its inventory and wisely deploy them to perform specific roles. History has already taught great lessons on the superiority of quality over quantity- or perhaps the mixture of both. Even today, this strategy prevails over the battlefield.
For example, deploying combat drones against main battle tanks is very effective when the latter has no means for anti-air defence, but in contested airspace with a swarm of fighters carrying out combat air patrols, launching drones for ground attack may not be as suitable as deploying them in the unchallenged skies.
Aforementioned is just one of the examples, out of hundreds, where its the strategy created after proper analysis and near accurate assumptions of the scenario that tilts the results for parties. Airpower is a great means of offense as well as defence. Being the branch of every modern military, proper functioning of the force is necessary for safeguarding national boundaries.
However, there is no solid and well defined criteria to determine a “potent” airpower. Relatively, the US has the largest and also technically superior firepower in the world, followed by powers like China and Russia. But, it is still necessary to acknowledge that the first priority for any military is to establish a strong defensive doctrine to meet the regional challenges, that comes from the neighbours.
Therefore, in our series, we will cover various Air Forces around the world having a significant stance in their defensive policies in the region and maintaining more or less, an edge over its adversaries. Looking at their combat fleet, air defence and connectivity in accordance to the territory they guard.
With more than 50 million people and approximately 670 square kilometres under jurisdiction, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, or famously referred as Burma, owns a significant status in the region. Located in South East Asia, the country establishes direct relationships with regional powers like China and India. As a part of Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) since 1997, the country receives cooperation on trade, security and social development from the organisation.
The nation has had an ugly past of regular coups. The first was in 1962, 14 years after the Independence from external rule. And for 49 years (1962-2011), the military government managed the political system of the country, until internal and external pressures forced the government to conduct general elections and establish a democratic government. Unfortunately, the lifespan of democratic system was short lived and within 10 years, another military coup hit the country, with military general Min Aung Hlaing seizing the control of the administration.
This also brought a mass scale civil protests and demonstrations all over country. And gradually led to Myanmar military action to achieve the government orders. With 2.7% of the GDP spent on defence expenditure, the country manages a sufficient military power to operate its military and equip them with the necessary weaponry to deal with external and internal threats.
Here, lets take a look at the airpower of Myanmar, which in past few years, took a great leap in modernization to meet new challenges of warfare.
The operations related to airspace security and surveillance are undertaken by Myanmar Integrated Air Defence System (MIADS), connected with every radar stations, anti-aircraft missile installations and air force bases spread throughout the country.
With both China and Russia as major defence partners, the Myanmar Air Force operates a decent mixture of modern fighters supplied by both nations. The Su-30SME, export version of Su-30SM, provides the organisation a decent air superiority platform. With long range N011M BARS, a Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar, the aircraft is capable of tracking 5m2 RCS targets at range of 200km and engage them simultaneously with its Beyond Visual Range air to air missiles inventory like R-77 and R-27. The aircraft is also capable of carrying out day and night operations in all-weather conditions, keeping the availability high. However, the aircraft is yet to receive the full operational capability.
JF-17 Block 2 is another new addition to Myanmar Air Force. 16 purchasedfrom China back in 2015. The aircraft, developed via a joint venture between China and Pakistan, provides multirole capability to MAF, which also includes maritime operations with C-802A long range anti-ship missiles, revealed in promotional videos and official documents. The utilisation of SD-10 medium-range air-to-air missile, cued with KLJ-7v2 Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) Radar, allows the aircraft to attain BVR combat readiness.
MiG-29 “Fulcrum” remained the backbone of the organistaion since its induction in 2001. Upgraded to SE standards, the aircraft provides adequate air defence capability, with adequate medium range R-27R and short range R-73 air-to-air missiles in the inventory. However, a serious problem with the platform is its ineffective radar, the N019 pulse doppler radar that has inborn issues while signal processing, adversely affecting the overall performance and unable to achieve full tracking range. However, the issue can go unnoticed as the aircraft will be replaced by more capable platforms in coming years.
Another fighter with little role is Chengdu F-7M and Nanchang A-5C, but it remains more or less grounded due to airframe limitations/availibility issues.
Rotorwing also play an important role as utility and offense platforms. Mi-35 assault helicopters provide the Myanmar air force a great solution for low intensity air-to-ground operations. Armed with Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), rocket pods and twin-barrel GSh-23 autocannon, it is highly effective against infantry.
There is no lack of autonomous combat capability in Myanmar Air Force. The Chinese origin CH-3A and CH-4 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) from CASC “Rainbow” family, are said to be in service with the organisation. Both UAVs can be best utilised in anti-infantry operations with the deployment of precision-guided munitions. Though not officially inducted, many reports suggest that the UCAVs actively participated in COunter INsurgency operations.
Ground based Air Defence
Total dependence on aircrafts can’t protect any country from invasion of foreign forces. The ground based air defence systems have proved their worth time to time in regional as well as major scale conflicts in various combat zones. Tasks like Early Warning, ELINT and Interception of hostiles can be performed by ground based systems. Their significance as both effective support and capable defensive asset, is a must for any modern military.
China, Ukraine and Russia supplied the air defence solutions to Myanmar. The YLC-2V L-band surveillance radar with 450km or beyond search range for targets at average altitude with RCS between 10m2-15m2, is a capable system for regular airspace monitoring. Another system is P-37, operates at E-band, and a range of 200-250km for 5m2-10m2 RCS targets.
All the radar systems are linked withe anti-aircraft installations as well as airbases. However, the operation of anti-aircraft missiles is under Army. Russian origin SA-3 and S-75M3; Belarusian Kub 2K12M2 and SA-6, Chinese KS-1A; and locally produced KS-1M (specialized version of KS-1A) are some notable medium range anti-aircraft batteries within ranges to intercept 5m2 targets at 100-200km ranges.
Where it stands against the adversary?
Even though the country has no serious territorial conflicts with neighbours, it still has strained diplomatic relations with Dhaka due to indiscriminate inflow of Rohingya refugees into the territory of Bangladesh. This, however, has low chances to turn into an armed conflict, but still requires regular military preparedness on both sides as there were regular reports on airspace violations by Myanmar helicopters.
The current relative position favours Myanmar as the modernisation programme is in progress. Bangladesh, is also in process of matching the standards or somehow beyond it, but yet to achieve the feat in terms of aircraft capability. The limited quantity of BAF MiG-29s (upgraded to BM standards between 2019-2021) and majority of 3rd generation J-7BGI aircrafts are not sufficient to match the rival. But as we already said, any armed conflict is highly unlikely between both the parties, they have a lot more time to improve their current standings in global firepower, with focused approach on the defensive doctrine.
At present, the military government of Burma is already busy with public demonstrations. The reports of war crimes are also evident. The deployment of military-grade weapons is indeed an ugly move that hasn’t gone unnoticed by global powers.