JF-17 Blunder: Myanmar Grounds JF-17 Fighter Jets For Structural Flaws And Engine Problems

On 15 September 2020, a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) JF-17 Thunder jet crashed near Pindigheb. After flying in the air since 2017, a single-seater JF-17 Block II Serial No. 17-241​ was lost to an accident due to cracks on the vertical stabilizer. photo by Dawn news.

Most of the newly acquired Chinese and Pakistan-made JF-17 fighter jets that the Myanmar regime has delivered have been grounded due to technical malfunctions, according to analysts and former Myanmar Air Force pilots who monitor the junta’s air capabilities.

The JF-17 fighters—lightweight multi-role combat aircraft jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan—that the Myanmar Air Force has added to its fleet have structural cracks and other technical issues, and they told The Irrawaddy.

The aircraft, which are supposed to be capable of interception, ground attack and bombing missions, have turned out to be unfit for service. They added that the Myanmar military lacks the technical expertise to fix the problems.

The Myanmar air force’s ground crew and Chinese contractors are working in Myanmar to fix a JF-17 which could not taxi on the runway using RD-93 engine. Photo courtesy the Myanmar Times.

Myanmar reportedly inked a deal in early 2016 to procure 16 JF-17s from China for $25 million each. The first batch of six aircraft was delivered to the Myanmar Air Force in 2018, but details about the other 10 are unclear. The deal made Myanmar the first country outside China and Pakistan to buy JF-17s.

Myanmar regime chief Min Aung Hlaing put four malfunctioning JF-17 fighters into commission at a ceremony at the Meiktila air base in December 2018. Two more were commissioned in December 2019 as the Air Force celebrated the 72nd anniversary of its founding.

Jointly manufactured by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aerospace Corporation of China, the JF-17 was initially designed to balance the Indian Air Force. According to analysts, they are equipped with Chinese avionics, powered by the Russian Klimov RD 93 engine, and set up on a China-made airframe. They can be armed with air-to-air mid-range guided missiles, 80-mm and 240-mm rockets, and 500-lb bombs.

The Malaysian air force calls their MiG-29 ‘smoky bandit’ due to the smoke gushes through the exhaust of RD-33 engines.

Indian Navy has reported 17 design flaws with Russian-origin engines. The RD-93, the engine is a derivative of RD-33 engines which releases smokes during flight. The RD-93 engines also need maintenance and safety checks after several hours of flights.

The critical part of the JF-17 block II avionics is the China-made doppler radar, which has poor accuracy and maintenance problems, analysts say. The aircraft does not even have an effective beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile or airborne interception radar.

According to experts, a malfunction of the Weapon Mission Management Computer has caused launch zones to shrink during combat exercises.

Furthermore, the airframe is vulnerable to damage, especially in its wingtips and hardpoints, when the aircraft encounters gravitational solid forces, according to a former pilot of the Myanmar Air Force.

As the avionics and electronics installed in JF-17s are made with parts from Western countries, the Myanmar military purchased the fighter jets through middlemen between 2015 and 2020. Following the coup, the European Union imposed sanctions against the Myanmar military and arms brokers. The Air Force now has no spare parts for the JF-17s, according to analysts and former pilots.

The trade embargo also makes it impossible for the Myanmar military regime to directly buy missiles and bombs for its JF-17s. The regime, meanwhile, has forged a partnership with the Pakistan military, sending weapons system officers from the Air Force and Air Defense units to Pakistan for training from time to time.

For the Myanmar Air Force to carry out deadly air strikes on ethnic armed revolutionary organizations and civilians, it mainly needs air-to-surface missiles. It reportedly held talks with Pakistan to order these as well as bombs and rockets. Around May this year, a cargo plane from Pakistan loaded with JF-17 spare parts landed in Myanmar.

Technicians from the Pakistan Air Force made a secret visit to Myanmar in September. They set up a JF-17 simulator for pilots of the Myanmar Air Force at Pathein air base and solved some technical problems. A JF-17 weapons system officer, however, said the weapons system of the JF-17 is too technically complex for Myanmar pilots to handle, according to former pilots.

Thanks to the JF-17s’ poor accuracy, the Myanmar Air Force still can’t use them for combat four years after they were commissioned. According to analysts, this has led the Air Force to rely on China-made K-8 fighters to drop unguided bombs on Karen rebel’s position.

While the Myanmar Air Force has spent a large sum to procure malfunctioning aircraft from China and Pakistan, arms broker Dr Naing Htut Aung has earned millions of US dollars from the deal, Global Defense Corp learned.

At the 72nd anniversary event for the Myanmar Air Force, Min Aung Hlaing boasted that the Myanmar Air Force started with moth planes but now has hangars filled with aircraft, including supersonic jet fighters, transport aircraft, and assault and transportation helicopters.

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