AIRCRAFT

Hongdu K-8 Karakorum

The Hongdu JL-8 (variants: K-8) is a single-engine, flat, straight-winged trainer/light attack two-seater jet designed by Hongdu Aviation Industry Co., Ltd. and jointly manufactured with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. It first arrived in Myanmar in 1998/1999 and is known to be stationed at Nampong and Taungoo airbases. It has been spotted at Shante (Meiktila) airbase. 50 planes are believed to have been purchased, with some sources claiming a total of 62 in MAF inventory. The K-8 mounts a 23 mm cannon pod on its underbelly hardpoint, and it is equipped with four additional hardpoints under its wings, allowing it to carry up to 943 kg of ordinance. Its maximum speed is 800 knots, and its maximum range is 1560 nautical miles (2140 with External Fuel Tanks). It has a length of 11.6m, a wingspan of 9.63m, and a height of 4.21m. Before the regular deployment of the Yak-130 in active combat operations starting from April 2022, the K-8 bore the role of the workhorse and most frequently-used ground attack jet of the MAF. K-8s in MAF service have been observed sporting two distinctive liveries: a three-tone blue livery and a red-and-white livery, analogous to aerobatic demonstration aircraft. MW has observed that both have participated in combat operations.

Name
Type
Engine
Main Armament
Hardpoints
Payload / kg
Max Speed / knots
Max Range / nm
Max Range EFT / nm
Length / m
Wingspan / m
Height / m
Hongdu K-8 Karakorum
Basic pilot training / light attack aircraft
Honeywell TFE 731-2A-2A modular turbofan/AI-25 TLK turbofan; single engine
23mm (pod)
5
943
800
1560
2140 (2)
11.6
9.63
4.21
MAF K-8 in flight
MAF K-8 in flight

Image posted on Facebook on 9 September 2022 showing a K-8 of the MAF allegedly carrying out combat operations over Moe Bye

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MAF K-8 on tarmac
MAF K-8 on tarmac

One of four newly-commissioned MAF K-8Ws on the tarmac during the 74th anniversary ceremony of the Myanmar air force at Meiktila air base on 15 December 2021

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3 MAF K-8s on tarmac
3 MAF K-8s on tarmac

Three of six newly-commissioned MAF K-8Ws on the tarmac during the commissioning ceremony of several MAF aircraft on 28 February 2015

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MAF K-8 in flight
MAF K-8 in flight

Image posted on Facebook on 9 September 2022 showing a K-8 of the MAF allegedly carrying out combat operations over Moe Bye

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Bases

Capabilities

The K-8 Karakorum functions as an all-weather, low-cost trainer and light attack jet that Myanmar Witness has observed has been used in both configurations. The combat loadout focusses on a 23mm cannon pod mounted underneath the fuselage which can be supplemented by the four under-wing hardpoints, capable of carrying a variety of guided and unguided munitions up to 943 kg of total payload. In addition to munitions, external drop fuel tanks can be connected to extend the jet’s operational range. The combat configuration and lack of air intercept radar makes the K-8 best suited to a close-air-support role. In MAF service, the K-8, therefore, occupies a similar role to the newer Yak-130, which appears to have replaced much of the K-8’s participation in typical ground-attack missions. Myanmar Witness has verified footage of the K-8 employing unguided air-to-ground rockets, aerial bombs and its 23mm cannon.

Procurement

In 1998/1999, Myanmar acquired 12 K-8 jets from a joint Chinese and Pakistani project. According to several sources, in 2009/2010, 50 additional K-8s were agreed on for purchase.  Myanmar Witness has verified that at least four K-8Ws – reported version – have been commissioned in MAF service in December 2021, during a ceremony at Meiktila air base (3931 to 3934). According to data presented during the event, these aircraft were produced locally under licence from the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation, which allegedly occurred with another batch of six K-8Ws commissioned in MAF service in February 2015 (among which were 3929 and 3930). The 2021 K-8s mount an AI-25 TLK turbofan engine, have a max speed of 432 kts and a payload of 730 kg. MW is unable to independently verify this data and to confirm if only this latest batch respects these specs. The fact that one of the K-8s commissioned in 2015 was 3930 and the first of four new K-8s commissioned in 2021 was 3931 suggests there may have not been other deliveries in between.

Significant Events

A chronological order of events involving the K-8 in Myanmar.

  • 31 December 2021: Footage from the KNDF Facebook page shows a K-8 jet flying over Demoso (ဒီးမော့ဆိုမြို့) (19.551334, 97.152412), Kayah State. Reports claim two K-8s carried strikes in the Demoso area.

  • 8 January 2022: a K-8 was seen flying and shooting over Loikaw (လွိုင်ကော်မြို့) in a residential area of Pan Kan (ပန်ကန်း)  (19.657966, 97.209974), Kayah State. Loikaw is near Demoso and encompasses this area that witnessed several attacks in a few week period, including the 31 December 2021 attack. Both location and aircraft were verified by Myanmar Witness.

  • 11 January 2022: At least one K-8 was filmed seen firing towards the ground in Pan Kan (ပန်ကန်း), south of Loikaw, Kayah State. This follows just days after the 8 January attacks in the same area.

  • 16 January 2022: 2 K-8 jets seen opening fire towards the ground near the NW Loikaw region, Kayah State. Locals stated they fled the area because they were afraid of more attacks.

  • 17-20 February: Alleged sighting of a K-8 in the Loikaw region, Kayah state, was shared on the Free Burma Rangers Facebook page, but this has not been verified.

  • 23 February 2022: At least one K-8 seen firing its underbelly 23mm gun pod in the Demoso area, Kayah State, with casualties reported.

  • 8 March 2022: K-8s reported shooting towards ground targets, with claims of casualties from Loi Htwea Village (လွယ်ထွဲ), Hsihseng Township, Shan State. This area is just north of Loikaw and the Demoso area from recent previous attacks.

  • 27 March 2022: Three K-8s are seen in the SAC Military Parade footage alongside two Yak-130s which has been verified by Myanmar Witness.

  • 9 September 2022: Two K-8 jets are reported to have attacked an area in Moe Bye (မိုးဗြဲ), Pekon Township, Shan State. Moe Bye is also near the Loikaw and Demoso region, just north of the Shan-Kayah state border. Reports of more fighting between SAC troops and KNDF forces occurred in the area after the airstrikes.

  • 29 October 2022: At least one K-8 seen in Momauk Township (မိုးမောက်မြို့နယ်), Kachin State with claims of SAC troops fighting with PDF and KIA soldiers near Momauk city. Reports state that clashes have been occurring for several days.

Identification

The K-8 is equipped with a large two-seater bubble canopy ending in a rounded nose, and mid-mounted straight-shaped wings. It is a small aircraft with air intakes above the wing on the sides of the slim fuselage. The jet’s single nozzle is at the rear of the fuselage, directly underneath the stabilisers. The horizontal stabilisers extend beyond the rudder on the short vertical stabiliser.

🟡 short vertical stabiliser; horizontal stabiliser right above nozzle

🟢 mid-mounted straight-shaped wings

🔵 small vertical air intakes; slim fuselage

🔴 long, two-seater bubble canopy; rounded nose

🟡 short vertical stabiliser; horizontal stabiliser right above nozzle

🟢 mid-mounted straight-shaped wings, two hardpoints each

🔵 slim fuselage; 23mm gun pod attached to underbelly hardpoint

🔴 rounded nose

🟡 short vertical stabiliser; horizontal stabiliser right above nozzle

🔵 small vertical air intakes; slim fuselage

🔴 long, two-seater bubble canopy; rounded nose

🟡 horizontal stabiliser right above nozzle

🟢 mid-mounted straight-shaped wings, two hardpoints each

🔵 small vertical air intakes; slim fuselage

🔴 rounded nose

Tail Numbers

The K-8 in Myanmar uses the 39XX tail number format. Investigators at Myanmar Witness have observed at least one K-8 jet, 3914, flying with both liveries schemes. According to FlightGlobal’s 2022 World Air Forces directory only 12 K-8 in MAF inventory are still operational. MW investigators have been able to identify 16 serial numbers belonging to K-8 jets in service with the MAF.

table of tail numbers of MiG-29 in Myanmar