Asia Defense

Is Myanmar Using Armed Chinese Drones For Counterinsurgency?

Myanmar’s air force is using armed drones against rebels in the country’s north.

Is Myanmar Using Armed Chinese Drones For Counterinsurgency?
Credit: Daniel Julie via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly confirmed Myanmar’s deployment of armed drones in counterinsurgency roles. Specifically, the Myanmar military is using the drones to enable ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the country’s restive northern areas, where multiple armed groups operate. The drones are Chinese-made CH-3As, built by China Aerospace Long-March International, a division of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Myanmar is thought to operate around a dozen CH-3A drones. The CH-3A is a variant of the CH-3 fixed-wing unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), featuring a 180 kg maximum payload and an endurance of six hours. The CH-3A matches the CH-3 for range, at 960 kilometers. In terms of armaments, the CH-3A is capable of fielding AR-1 laser-guided air-to-surface missiles and YC-200 guided bombs. (Both systems are known to be have been used by the Nigeria military, which operates the drones.)

Although photographs of purported CH-3As in the Myanmar Air Force (Tatmadaw Lay) have circulated previouslyJane’s is basing its latest confirmation off “a photograph likely to have been taken on a serviceman’s mobile telephone and posted on a Facebook account before being disseminated on the internet.” The report speculates that the CH-3As have been “undertaking sorties from an airfield likely to be either Lashio in Shan State or Bhamo in southeastern Kachin State.”

The Myanmar Air Force’s combat aircraft backbone is composed nearly entirely of Chinese-built systems, in addition to 31 Russian MiG-29 multirole fighters. The Myanmar Air Force operates Chinese Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft, primarily used in close air support roles, Chengdu J-7 fighters, Shenyang J-6 fighters, and is likely the first foreign buyer of the joint China-Pakistan JF-17 Thunder fighter. Myanmar also operates Chinese Y-8 medium lift transport aircraft.

While the CH-3A UCAVs are the most capable armed unmanned aerial system in Myanmar’s repertoire, the Myanmar Air Force also has 11 Sky-02A surveillance drones and 22 Yellow Cat A2s, which are domestic versions of the Chinese UAV. The addition to UCAVs to Myanmar’s aerial capabilities is unsurprising. As Global Security notes, the Myanmar Air Force has faced a shortage of trained manpower for military aviation and faced issues servicing its aging inventory of existing aircraft.