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Angola Air and Air Defense Force

The Angolan National Air Force (Forca Aerea Nacional Angolana, FANA) is under the operational control of the Army. As of 2013, the Air Force was organized in six regiments: two combat regiments, two transport regiments, a training regiment, and a helicopter regiment in Huambo.

The People's Air and Air Defense Force of Angola (Fora Area Popular de Angola/Defesa Area y Antiarea--FAPA/DAA), officially established on January 21, 1976, was the largest air force in subSaharan Africa. Colonel Alberto Correia Neto became vice minister of defense and FAPA/DAA commander in September 1986. He succeeded Colonel Carreira, who had held that post since 1983. The 7,000- member FAPA/DAA included about 180 fixed-wing combat attack and interceptor aircraft; an equal number of helicopters; several maritime patrol, reconnaissance, trainer, and transport aircraft; five air defense battalions; and ten SAM battalions. Seeking voluntary enlistment was initially the sole form of recruitment, but in the 1980s conscription was increasingly employed until volunteerism was restored in 1988.

Angola's army had about fifteen years to develop an organization and gain combat experience prior to independence. In contrast, FAPA/DAA had to acquire personnel, experience, and equipment immediately, and in the context of a civil war. These unusual circumstances affected both recruitment and force development. FAPA/DAA's pilots, mostly in their mid-twenties, got combat experience immediately. Moreover, given FAPA/DAA's virtually instantaneous creation, its long-term dependence on external assistance was inevitable. Soviet, Cuban, and other communist forces provided pilots and technicians to fly and maintain FAPA/DAA's growing, diversified, and increasingly complex air fleet. The principal tasks of this new branch of the Angolan military were to protect the capital, guard major cities and military installations in the south against South African air raids, and extend the air defense network and combat operations southward to confront UNITA forces and South African invaders.

The air force required years to acquire the assets and the expertise needed for effective operations. Although the navy was of marginal use in the war, air power was critical. It was only after sufficient aircraft and air defense systems had been deployed in the mid-1980s that Luanda was able to launch and sustain large offensives in the south. The Soviet Union provided most of the air force pilot and technician training as well as technical assistance in the operation and maintenance of the most advanced equipment: aircraft and warships, major weapons such as missiles, artillery, and rockets, and sophisticated radar and communications equipment. The number of Soviet service members and advisers varied. In 1988 it was estimated by most sources to range between 1,000 and 1,500 personnel, including some fighter pilots.

In early 1985 Spain sold 12 Aviocar 212 military aircraft to Angola. These planes, intended basically for troop transport, are equipped with high technology military gear considered top secret by the Spanish manufacturers. The Aviocar 212 is a small plane with a capacity for 12 passengers and light cargo. It can land on short earthen airstrips. The planes sold to Angola were armed with modern electronic equipment which increases their combat strength. The Spanish armed forces had four planes of the same type sold to Angola, and Portugal had acquired two. In both cases, the technology of the Aviocar 2l2's is less sophisticated than that of those exported to Angola.

By 1985 Angolan air power was equipped with Soviet-manufactured MiG-23 and Sukhoi combat planes which had been combined with MiG-21's already on hand in Luanda. The Russians, principal suppliers of Angolan arms, also made available to the Angolan Air Force -- for which many pilots had been trained in Angola and Russia -- Mi-24 combat helicopters. These can be observed at the military base in Luanda, as well as at Lubango, the general headquarters of the southern forces. But the Angolans were also seeking to diversify their aircraft. They have purchased Swiss reconnaissance planes of the "Pilatus" class, and were in discussion with Spain (CASA fighters) and with Brazil. Angola negotiated the purchase of 25 Gazelle helicopters (for combat) and Dauphin (for patrol) from France.

To attenuate the effects of the lack of effectiveness on the part of the Angolan army, the Air Force, equipped with considerable operational resources and placed under the command of Col Iko Carreira, became ever more active. Western sources in the Angolan capital believed that the Air Force is being used very intensively in operations against UNITA guerilla fighters, attacking moving columns and bombing areas containing guerilla pockets. The new strategy envisioned an attack upon military sanctuaries of UNITA and its supply lines, which were spread throughout the country for logistical purposes. Following this strategy, heavy units, using: Soviet military tactics, will encircle these bases, which will already have been bombed by pursuit planes supporting the ground operations.

South Africa had asked that Luanda bring about the cessation of SWAPO infiltrations into Angolan territory, as well as the departure of the Cubans. For its part, Angola demands the withdrawal of Pretorian forces from its territory, and the cessation of all support to UNITA. The hardening of combat with South Africa, and the ethnic disturbances among the forces of Jonas Savimbi, have greatly reduced the operations of UNITA, whose sanctuaries were located in the southeast of the country.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) suffered from the sanctions imposed by the international community. The air arm was small and relied primarily on a handful of Mirage fighters to challenge the Angolan Air Force with its Soviet planes and Cuban/Russian advisors and pilots. SAAF combat aircraft were older and less capable than those of their rivals. They also had to contend with an elaborate air defense system that exceeded in complexity those encountered by the Israelis in the Bekaa Valley or over the Golan Heights. As a result the SAAF had to develop proficiency in tactics such as "toss bombing", which allowed planes to ingress at low level and then climb swiftly to loft bombs in an indirect trajectory to within two hundred meters of their intended targets from seven to eight kilometers away. The hostile air environment in southeastern Angola, coupled with the paucity and technical inferiority of their aircraft, forced the SAAF to husband their assets for only the most critical targets. Ground forces could not rely on plentiful and timely close air support; on the contrary they fought under a blanket of Angolan air superiority.

In early October 1985 the two sides finally squared up just north of Mavinga in a battle in which more than 1,000 men are estimated to have died. In the end the South African air force tumed the tide in favor of the Angolan rebels. Wave after wave of Mirage jets bombed and strafed FAPLA supply columns.

By 1988, the Angolan air defence system was the most sophisticated of Soviet origin outside the Warsaw Pact countries. It comprised 75 mobile radar sets, 40 MiG-21's and 40 MiG-23's, SA-2, SA-3, SA-6, SA-8, SA-9, and SA-13 SAMs, ZSU-23 AAA and the man portable SA-7 and SA-14 missiles. This impressive range of equipment failed to deter the SAAF, which continued its strikes against SWAPO and other targets. So much so that some of the most advanced Soviet weapons of the time which fell into Western hands were those captured by the South Africans, including the first captured Soviet SAM-8 and SAM-9/13 surface-to-air missile systems..

Order of Battle - 2013

Kuito25 combat regiment11, 12 & 13 hunting squads.
Momedes 26 combat regiment 14, 15 & 16 attack squadrons
Menongue24 training regiment8, 9 & 10 training squads
Lunda, 4 de Fevereiro23 transport regiment5, 6 & 7 transport squadrons
Luena21 transport regiment1 & 2 helicopter squadrons
Huambo22 helicopter gunship regiment3 & 4 squadrons

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