Myanmar ‘Dumps’ China-Pak JF-17 Thunder Jets For Bombing Ops; Uses Outdated Q5 Fighters Instead: Reports

Amid the worsening situation in conflict-ridden Myanmar, some reports have noted that the junta forces deployed the Chinese-origin F-5 fighter jets to carry out bombing attacks on a church, school, and homes.

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This month, during a bombing attack on a church, school, and homes, Myanmar’s junta forces used a Q-5 fighter plane provided by China. Details of a new investigation indicate that at least 17 people, including women, children, and the elderly, were killed in the raid, a Newsweek report claimed.

The report comes days after some independent military watchers and local media suggested that the military government was consistently carrying out air strikes damaging religious communities across the war-torn nation. Although the government has categorically refused the claims, these air strikes have reportedly caused massive casualties across the state. 

The recent report on the use of Q-5 fighter jets has been collated and published by the Myanmar Witness organization. This agency monitors human rights in the war-torn Southeast Asian country.

“Myanmar Witness identified four Q-5 ground attack jets at 0943 local time at Tada-U airbase on 7 January 2024. Myanmar Witness also identified and geolocated footage of a Q-5 ground attack jet in the sky above Ka Nan village moments before the sound of an explosion. The MAF is the only known actor with access to Q-5 ground attack jets. The Q-5 has an operational range significantly beyond the distance between Tada-U airbase and Ka Nan village.”

According to one account, a celebration in Ka Nan village was reportedly the target, which came after a military training event for the People’s Defence Force (PDF).

The claims, however, could not be independently corroborated by the EurAsian Times.

Myanmar’s MRTV refuted reports of airstrikes, calling them “fake news,” “misinformation,” and “propaganda” against the government.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN claims that even though Chinese Q-5 jets have been in use by the Myanmar Air Force (MAF) since the 1990s, the ground attack aircraft have been maintained in the air since the army overthrew the government in a coup in 2021, thanks to spare parts that have been shipped from China.

Even though the junta has been subject to harsher Western sanctions following the ouster and imprisonment of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, China and Russia have both continued to provide military equipment to the junta. This is despite Chinese disenchantment with the military’s artillery shells falling on bordering Chinese provinces.

Shells fired from northern Myanmar struck Nansan, a town in Yunnan province, earlier this month. Nansan is located around 2.5 kilometers from the border. At least five Chinese citizens were hurt in the event and are said to be currently receiving treatment in a hospital.

China seems to be alarmed by security concerns posed by the fighting near its border, even if it has not actively intervened in the conflict or censured the Junta administration that toppled the legitimately elected Aung San Suu Kyi government in 2021.

The military government of Myanmar announced last year that it has been in talks with leaders of a coalition of armed ethnic minority groups that it is battling valiantly to control in the country’s northeast through mediation by China.

Myanmar’s Military Is Losing The Edge, But Q-5s Are Operational

Myanmar military’s air superiority has reportedly been diminished in recent weeks, with significant losses of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft reported.

The air force, which has been seeking to maintain complete air dominance over the region, has effectively lost three aircraft—two jet trainers and a Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopter—which has been one of the most significant losses for the Myanmar military since the adversary coalition began Operation 1027 in October last year. 

In 2023, an additional Mi-35 attack helicopter was lost. 

Earlier this month, a Chinese-origin Shaanxi Y-8 military aircraft that had reportedly been dispatched to evacuate Myanmar military personnel who had sought refuge in Mizoram, India, was damaged in a mishap. 

At the upper end are about thirty-one SU-29s and four newly delivered SU-30s from Russia. Due to airframe cracks and other maintenance concerns, the seven JF-17 multirole fighters China and Pakistan jointly developed and delivered to Myanmark are already grounded. 

JF-17 (FC-1)
File Image: JF-17

The Myanmar Air Force (MAF) is believed to have 20 Nanchang Q-5s, a Chinese variant of the Soviet-origin MiG-19 aircraft. It additionally possesses about twenty-one Chengdu J-7s, a MiG-21 made in China. It had previously acquired about 60 between 1990 and 1999. The number of fighters that are still airworthy is unknown. 

The deployment of the Chinese fighter jet, as alleged by human rights agencies, may be significant given that China has been making concerted attempts to broker peace between the two warring sides.

Nanchang Q-5 - Wikipedia
Nanchang Q-5 – Wikipedia

While Myanmar Witness was unable to obtain any images of a plane dropping bombs, it was able to identify and geolocate footage of a Q-5 jet above Kanan just before the sound of an explosion.

It was able to determine, through data from Telegram channels, that approximately half an hour before the strike, the same kind of military aircraft, also identified by its NATO reporting name Fantan, had taken off from the Tada-U airbase.

“The MAF is the only known actor with access to Q-5 ground attack jets,” Myanmar Witness said. “Myanmar Witness will continue to monitor the use of airstrikes throughout Myanmar and attempt to hold the MAF accountable through open-source investigations.”

The Nanchang Q-5 is a ground assault aircraft with a single seat and twin engines. It was created and produced in Nanchang, China, by the Hongdu Aircraft Industry Group.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is the primary user of the aircraft. A-5 is the export variant of Nanchang Q-5. There are now about 1000 Q-5 in use worldwide.

The aircraft’s avionics suite consists of an optical firing or bomb sight, KJ-4 autopilot, No. 45 optical sight, and radio compass. The aircraft’s position on a designated route is determined via a marker beacon receiver installed in the cockpit.

It also has a Doppler navigation radar installed, which can identify the weapons that adversaries carry. Moreover, Doppler navigation radar allows it to identify the weapons that adversaries are carrying.

The avionics package also includes an ultra-high frequency radio, GPS, traffic alert, collision avoidance system, head-up display, chaff/flake dispensers, identification of friends and foes and a rear warning receiver.

With 100 rounds per gun capacity, the Q-5 or A-5 is equipped with two 23mm type 23-2K cannons. The aircraft has ten hard points. Out of these, six are under the wings, and four are under the fuselage section. It can also carry a 2,000-kilogram payload of explosives.

The Q-5 is additionally equipped with BL755 cluster bombs, Matra Durandal anti-runway bombs, PL-2, PL-5, and PL-7 air-to-air missiles (AAM), and unguided bombs weighing between 50 and 500 kg. Three different sizes of rocket pods—57, 90, and 130 millimeters—are mounted in the aircraft.