Russia is to supply Burma with a further 20 MiG-29 jet fighters, according to the news agency Agence France-Presse, quoting the Russian daily Kommersant on Wednesday.
Russia and Burma signed a contract several weeks ago for the purchase of the aircraft at a cost of nearly 400 million euros (US $570 million), the paper reported, quoting a source close to the Russian arms company Rosoboronexport.
Kommersant said it was the biggest export contract for MiG-29 fighters since a deal with Algeria in 2007.
Russia, a staunch ally of Burma at the UN, is among the country's leading arms suppliers. Russia is to build a “nuclear studies” center in Burma, which will include a 10-megawatt, light water-moderated nuclear reactor.
In late December 2009, reports surfaced that Myanmar (formerly Burma) had signed a EUR 400 million (about $571 million) deal with Russia’s Rosoboronexport for 20 MiG-29D fighters. Some sources add a deal for more Mi-35 attack helicopters, and place the entire package at EUR 450 million.
The Russian bid reportedly beat a Chinese offer to supply 4+ generation J-10/ FC-20 fighters, or the cheaper JF-17/ FC-1 Thunder lightweight fighter. Implicitly, it also edged out neighboring Malaysia, who is preparing to sell its MiG-29N fleet at a discounted price. This is good news for RAC-MiG, whose financial troubles and low order volume led to a shotgun merger with Russia’s state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, government bailouts, and doubts about the long-term future of its technologies.
By comparison, the Tripartite Core Group (UN, ASEAN, and Burma’s Junta) launched [PDF] a 3-year Post-[Cyclone] Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP) in February 2009, appealing for international donations of $691 million…
Myanmar’s air force ordered 12 MiG-29s from Russia in 2001, to supplement a fleet that mostly relies on Chinese F-7 (MiG-21 copy) and J-6/ Q-5 (MiG-19 copy and heavily modified MiG-19 derivative) fighters. Current levels of readiness among the regime’s existing aircraft types are uncertain, and in late January 2010, one of those F-7s crashed, killing the pilot. This is not uncommon with MiG-21s and their derivatives, which can be challenging to fly safely.
China has close relations with Myanmar, and remains one of its main international supporters, so its presence as Russia’s main arms competitor in Myanmar is hardly surprising. Russia’s MiGs gave it a foothold of its own, and the SPDC regime is also cooperating with Russia to build a nuclear power plant, reportedly a Russian 10-megawatt design with low enriched (under 20% U-235) uranium.
Those relations with Russia can be a somewhat touchy subject, it seems. Recently, the SPDC regime sentenced 2 government officials to death for leaking information about state visits to North Korea and to Russia, and about underground tunnels being built around the new capital with North Korean help.