Thailand scrambled two F-16 fighters on June 30 in response to an airspace violation by what appeared to be a MiG-29 belonging to the Myanmar Air Force (MAF).
Thailand’s defense attache protested with Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar currently running the government.
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Myanmar’s military junta later apologized to Thailand on the same day. “We already have good ties,” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told reporters, adding that Myanmar’s military government had apologized for the incident. “Most importantly, we’re still capable to defend ourselves… It’s not a big deal.”
The Two F-16 fighter jets were dispatched by the Royal Thai Air Force (RATF) when it detected a plane on its radar flying in Thai airspace in Tak province near the Myanmar border.
It was carrying out attacks on ethnic minority rebels, according to RATF spokesperson Air Vice Marshal Prapat Sonjaidee.
Video obtained by Associated Press shows what appears to be a MiG-29 circling in the Thai airspace over villages and schools before firing on the Myanmar side.
The MAF is known to use combat aircraft to provide close air support to the Myanmar Army against the various rebel forces in the country. The Tatmadaw has increased the intensity of its operations against rebel forces after overthrowing the civilian government in February 2021.
Fighter Jet Was Providing Air Support
In this case, the MiG-29 supported the Myanmar troops battling the Karen rebel forces in the Myawaddy border town opposite Ban Wao Lay Tai village in the Phop Phra district of Tak province.
The Russian-made fighter jet intruded about 4-5 kilometers into Thailand’s airspace, over areas between Ban Wao Lay Tai and Ban Wao Lay Nua villages, reported Bangkok Post, citing a source.
Panicked by the intrusion of the fighter jet and loud explosions in Myanmar, the villagers in the two Thai border villages ran to take shelter in bunkers.
A resident by the name of Sayant Wongjai told Bangkok Post that his pickup truck parked one kilometer away from the Myanmar border was damaged by shrapnel from the fighter jet. He claimed to have seen the fighter jet flying across the Phop Phra district when it launched air strikes along the border, and he said that loud explosions were heard.
According to Thai authorities, about 300 people have fled intensified military operations in Myanmar’s Karen state in the past few days.
Following the incident, RATF protested against the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Myanmar’s air force attache in Rangoon.
“The military attaches have spoken to each other and apologized, and our foreign ministries have talked. This may seem like a serious incident, but it depends on us if we want to escalate this. Currently, the two sides enjoy a good relationship and can talk,” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha told reporters.
Prayuth said that though the incident may have appeared severe, it was “not a big deal,” and a Myanmar defense attache had apologized. He explained that the MAF pilot had no intention to infringe upon Thai airspace but needed to make a turn, resulting in the plane crossing into Thai territory.
“What is most important is we have enough capacity to defend our sovereignty,” Prayuth told reporters.
Thailand’s F-16 Prompted Myanmar To Buy MiG-29
The latest incident brings back the memories of the 2001 border clash between Thailand and Myanmar and how the F-16s of RATF prompted the Tatmadaw to acquire MiG-29s from Russia in the first place.
The MAF currently operates many aircraft types from several countries, including Poland, the US, and the UK, but its fighter jets are sourced primarily from China and Russia.
Since 1998, air force modernization and acquisition of advanced fighter jets have been a major focus of Tatmadaw. The trend was exacerbated by a skirmish along the Myanmar-Thailand border in February 2001, killing a dozen civilians and almost a hundred Burmese soldiers.
There were conflicting accounts of the event presented by both governments. According to Myanmar, the fight between the Tatmadaw and one of the several rival ethnic rebels, the Shan State Army (SSA), spilled over into the Thai territory near Ban Pang Noon, causing subsequent clashes.
However, the Thai accounts said that Tatmadaw provoked the clash by capturing a Royal Thai Army (RTA) base at Ban Pang Noon.
Finally, the Thai military forced Burmese troops from border strongholds using American-made F-16 fighter jets that the RATF had purchased in September 2000.
Following this, the Tatmadaw purchased eight MiG-29′ Fulcrum’ fighters and two MiG-29 UB trainers from Russia in July 2001 for a total of US$ 130 million.
Shortly after Myanmar purchased the MiG-29s, the RATF also announced the purchase of 8 AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM) from the US, thereby fuelling the arms race even more.
Currently, the MAF operates an estimated 27 MiG-29s capable of firing the R-27 and R-73 beyond visual range AAMs, of which 16 are modern MiG-29SE and SM variants that benefit from new computers and flight controls.
The fighters also boast Phazotron N019M radars which provide a multirole capability that the older MiG-29s lack.
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