Myanmar junta sends stern message to Pakistan over unusable JF-17 Thunder fighter jets

According to a report from BT Business Today, Myanmar's military junta is reportedly displeased with the Chengdu JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter jets designed by China but manufactured and supplied by Pakistan between 2019 and 2021, as these aircraft have been deemed "unsuitable for operations." Currently, 11 of the JF-17 planes are non-operational due to technical issues. General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of Myanmar's military junta, expressed his dissatisfaction with Pakistan's former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Pakistani Army, General Asim Munir.

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Myanmar junta sends stern message to Pakistan over unusable JF 17 Thunder fighter jets 1 bis Myanmar Air Force Chengdu JF-17 manufactured in Pakistan (Picture source:

These planes were part of a 2016 deal that the Burmese military junta had entered into to acquire JF-17 jets produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China's Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation. However, the Burmese Air Force had to ground the aircraft soon after due to numerous malfunctions and structural flaws, as reported by Myanmar-based Narinjara News. Similar issues were encountered with the JF-17 fleet obtained in 2022.

In September of the previous year, Pakistani engineers visited Myanmar to address the problems with the JF-17 planes, which were jointly manufactured by Pakistan and China. Despite a few attempts by Pakistani engineers to rectify the issues, the military junta has become infuriated and has sent a strong message to Islamabad, demanding accountability for the situation.

The military junta is frustrated because the inoperability of the aircraft has significantly hindered its plans to enhance its airpower for conducting targeted strikes against resistance groups in Myanmar, particularly the People's Defence Force (PDF), an armed faction of the National Unity Government (NUG). Additionally, the military junta has sought assistance from China regarding this matter.

The JF-17 jets rely on the Russian Klimov RD 93 aeroengine and Western avionics, combined with a China-made airframe. These factors have resulted in substantial operational and maintenance costs compared to modern weapon systems. The aircraft is equipped with the KLJ-7 Al radar and the Weapon Mission Management Computer (WMMC), but it lacks a beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile capability or airborne interception radar. These limitations affect its combat effectiveness and overall performance.

A recent visit by Myanmar's Chinese envoy to Naypyitaw reportedly conveyed a message from the Chinese Communist Party's top leadership to General Min Aung Hlaing. Sources suggest that Pakistan is attempting to renegotiate the deal with newer versions of the fighter jet, potentially developed in collaboration between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China's Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation. However, it remains unclear whether the Myanmar leadership has accepted the renegotiated deal or not.

As a consequence, Pakistan has encountered difficulties in selling similar aircraft to other nations, particularly in Latin America. Notably, China does not currently possess any JF-17 planes in its Air Force fleet.

Background of the problems

As related on, in 2018, Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the Myanmar regime, formally introduced four malfunctioning JF-17 fighters into service at the Meiktila air base. Subsequently, two more of these aircraft were put into commission in December 2019 during the 72nd anniversary celebration of the Air Force's establishment.

The JF-17 fighters, jointly manufactured by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China's Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, were initially conceived to counterbalance the Indian Air Force. Equipped with Western avionics and powered by the Russian Klimov RD 93 aeroengine, these aircraft utilize a Chinese-made airframe. They possess the capability to be armed with air-to-air mid-range guided missiles, 80-mm and 240-mm rockets, and 500-lb bombs.

A pivotal aspect of the JF-17's avionics is the China-produced KLJ-7 Al radar, which is beset with accuracy and maintenance challenges, as noted by analysts. Notably, the aircraft lacks an effective beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile or an airborne interception radar.

During combat exercises, issues with the Weapon Mission Management Computer have led to reduced launch zones for BVR air-to-air missiles, a concern highlighted by experts.

Moreover, the airframe of the JF-17 is susceptible to damage, particularly in wingtips and hardpoints, when exposed to high gravitational forces, as attested by a former pilot of the Myanmar Air Force.

Post-purchase predicaments have arisen due to the presence of avionics and electronics sourced from Western nations. Procurement of the fighter jets occurred through intermediaries between 2015 and 2020. Following the coup, the European Union's sanctions against the Myanmar military and arms brokers have led to a lack of spare parts for the JF-17s, according to analysts and former pilots.

The trade embargo has also obstructed the direct acquisition of missiles and bombs for the JF-17s. In response, the Myanmar military regime has established a partnership with the Pakistan military, sending personnel for training from time to time.

To execute effective air strikes against ethnic armed revolutionary groups and civilians, the Myanmar Air Force requires air-to-surface missiles. Talks with Pakistan regarding the procurement of these missiles, along with bombs and rockets, have reportedly taken place. A cargo plane from Pakistan containing JF-17 spare parts landed in Myanmar around May of the current year.

In September, technicians from the Pakistan Air Force clandestinely visited Myanmar, setting up a JF-17 simulator at the Pathein air base and addressing certain technical issues. However, a JF-17 weapons system officer acknowledged that the aircraft's complexity remains a challenge for Myanmar pilots, as noted by former pilots.

Due to the JF-17's accuracy issues, the Myanmar Air Force remains unable to deploy them in combat, even four years after their commissioning. Consequently, the Air Force has continued to rely on Russian-made Yak-130 and MiG-29 fighter jets, as well as China-produced K-8 fighters, as highlighted by analysts. Despite the significant expenditure on acquiring flawed aircraft from China and Pakistan, arms broker Dr. Naing Htut Aung has profited considerably from the deal, according to information from The Irrawaddy.

During the Myanmar Air Force's 72nd anniversary event in 2022, Min Aung Hlaing showcased the Air Force's advancements, mentioning an array of modern aircraft, including supersonic jet fighters, transportation planes, and assault helicopters. Notably absent from his address, however, were any references to the JF-17 fighters, which remain unusable.