The Myanmar Air Force has ordered several FTC-2000G midrange fighter jets from China, a major arms supplier to the Southeast Asian nation.
The Irrawaddy has learned that a group of approximately eight Air Force pilots, eight technicians and at least two armaments officers traveled to China via Kunming in June.
China has strict COVID-19 regulations and the Myanmar personnel had to go through quarantine in Kunming. The pilots are known to fly the F-7 interceptor, A-5 bomber and K-8 W trainer and light attack jet for the Myanmar Air Force.
The new jet fighters will replace the Myanmar Air Force’s aging F-7s and A-5s. Once they are delivered they are expected to be based at Namsang airbase in Shan State, according to sources familiar with the purchase.
It is not yet known when the agreement was reached between Beijing and Naypyitaw. The purchase of Chinese jet fighters may have begun in 2020, but delivery and pilot training were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s strict policy on containing the disease.
The FTC-2000G is an advanced light multi-role trainer/combat aircraft designed and manufactured by Guizhou Aviation Industry Corporation (GAIC) under the supervision of Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense firm Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
It is the export variant of the Guizhou JL-9 trainer/combat aircraft, which is in service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The two-seat jet fighter has training capabilities with attack and fighting capabilities in combat.
It can be used to perform pilot flight training, aerial surveillance, patrol missions, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, close-in air support and air escort missions.
In April 2020, news emerged in Cambodia and in China’s Global Times that China planned to sell the aircraft to an undisclosed Southeast Asian country. It did not say how many units were to be sold, stating only that the deal was signed in January 2020 and that deliveries would start in early 2021 and be completed after two years.
The cost of the jet fighter is around US$8.5 million.
The reports identified Cambodia and Myanmar as potential buyers, as both countries are closely aligned with China, both militarily and politically.
The sources stated that Gateways Hong Kong Ltd. was involved in brokering the deal. A key arms broker, Gateways Hong Kong Ltd is also involved in buying spare parts for F-7 and A-5 aircraft.
Dr. Naing Htut Aung, a major arms supplier to Myanmar’s military, was also a key weapons dealer for the previous regime led by dictator Senior General Than Shwe.
Registered as a director of the Yangon-based International Gateways Group of Companies Ltd., Dr. Naing Htut Aung has had strong ties with successive military leaders, including current Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, sources told The Irrawaddy.
He is a key procurer of weapons, spare parts and upgrades for the Navy and Air Force and is an agent for major state-owned Chinese arms producers, said Justice for Myanmar (JFM), an activist group that monitors the military’s businesses, citing a private-sector source with military connections.
He was a middleman in the Air Force’s procurement of 16 JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan in 2015, and was also a key figure in a joint venture between the Directorate of Myanmar Defense Industries and China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation to produce the K-8 jet trainer and light attack aircraft in Myanmar.
His businesses, Gateways International Holding Company and International Gateways Group of Companies, were registered at the same address as Myanmar Consultancy until late 2020.