Arming Sino-Pak JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jets, Myanmar Top Officials To Visit Pakistan For Potential Weapons Deal — Report

Sanction-hit Myanmar is busy inventing newer means to acquire weapons. The country’s junta regime is apparently sending a delegation of top officials to Pakistan ahead of a potential arms deal.

Western countries have imposed heavy sanctions on Myanmar’s top generals and entities linked to them in the wake of the February 1, 2021 coup that ousted a democratically-elected government and unleashed a reign of terror.  

The Southeast Asian country intends to buy 60 mm and 81 mm mortars, as well as M-79 grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, from Pakistan, The Economic Times reported.

Myanmar is also hoping to purchase air-to-surface missiles from Pakistan for its JF-17 fighter jets, the report said, adding that Naypyidaw is unable to buy these missiles directly from China due to a ban.

Myanmar was the first country to purchase the JF-17 Thunder, a multi-role combat aircraft produced jointly by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation of China, in 2015. 

Myanmar Air Force’s JF-17 fighter jets. (Wikimedia Commons)

Last September, a high-level group from Pakistan’s Defense Ministry paid a secret visit to Myanmar. According to reports, the two countries discussed advanced ordnance technology, aircraft repair and maintenance, and naval weapons during the visit.

The 10-member Pakistani delegation met with Myanmar’s Defense Minister and purportedly discussed the sale of upgraded JF-17 (Block III) aircraft and air-to-surface missiles.

Myanmar-Pakistan Ties

The relations between Myanmar and Pakistan had hit a rough patch in the wake of the 2017 violence against the Rohingya Muslims. Pakistan was also accused of aiding and abetting fundamentalist Rohingya organizations. 

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s democratically elected government was overthrown by the military, following which the United States and other countries declared that military exports to the country would be stopped. 

JF-17 (FC-1)
A JF-17 (FC-1)

While Myanmar faced a blockade from the global community, Pakistan, backed by China, seized the opportunity to extend its defense ties with the country. Pakistan, like China, has assessed post-coup developments in Myanmar and believes that the Myanmar military would retain power indefinitely. Experts predict Myanmar and Pakistan would certainly enhance their defense cooperation.

Given Pakistan and China have such a close relationship, Islamabad is expected to promote sub-conventional warfare training and equipment, as well as maintenance and overhaul of Chinese-made equipment and weapon sales through Pakistani defense companies, as prospective areas of bilateral involvement.

China Arming Myanmar?

While China has maintained an active relationship with Myanmar’s regime, it has also stated that Beijing was not involved in the military coup last year in order to improve its global standing. Leveraging Pakistan as a middleman without directly involving itself would allow Beijing to not only transfer military gear covertly but also get access to markets that may be hostile to China. It would also help reduce anti-China sentiments in a post-pandemic scenario.

The EurAsian Times had earlier reported that Myanmar’s Navy has commissioned a diesel-electric submarine that previously served with China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. On December 24, 2020, India also handed over a Russian-built Kilo Class submarine to the Myanmar navy, aimed at countering growing Chinese efforts to persuade Myanmar to buy its weapons.

The Myanmar Navy’s new submarine, Min Ye Kyaw Htin – (Via Twitter)

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Naypyidaw in 2020, the two nations agreed to accelerate a number of Belt and Road Initiative projects. Exports of heavy rare earth minerals from Myanmar to China also resumed last year. 

Meanwhile, a UN human rights expert claimed on February 22 that China, Russia and Serbia are the three countries that armed Myanmar’s military. Beijing supplied the military junta with fighter jets and armored vehicles, according to a report released by Thomas Andrews, a former US congressman serving in the independent post of human rights expert on the country. 

The investigation noted that Beijing was aware that the arms it provided to Myanmar would be used to attack people, which would be illegal under international law. The military junta has been suspected of attacking civilians.

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s total proportion of global armament exports fell from 5.6 to 5.2 percent in 2019-20. Faced with growing anti-China sentiment in Myanmar, China can use Pakistan as a proxy to continue providing military support to Myanmar.