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DR Congo Air Force

The Force arienne de la Rpublique Dmocratique du Congo [DR Congo Air Force] consists of approximately 1,800 personnel and provides close air support, aerial reconnaissance, and transport support for the other services. To accomplish this mission, the air force is organized into one fighter squadron, one counterinsurgency squadron, one transport wing, one helicopter squadron, and a training element.

The former Belgian Congo gained its independence on June 30, 1960. In October 1962, the Congolese Government asked the United States to provide jet fighters, pilots, several transport aircraft, trucks and other military equipment to fight leftist rebels. It was subsequently authorized for the Congolese Government to contract for the services of pilots. On December 7, 1962, the Special Group (later the 303 Committee), the high-level interdepartmental group set up to approve and supervise US covert operations, approved a proposal to provide additional personnel and logistical support to the Congolese Air Force (CAF).

At the daily White House staff meeting on 10 December 1962, Bundy, Kaysen and Dungan said that one of the best things that could happen might be for the Congolese National Army to drop a few bombs in the Katanga from a few aircraft which the United States would furnish them for that purpose. The idea seemed to be that this would tend to remove a lot of the intricate complexities of the Congo problem (UN, UMHK, etc.), and perhaps reduce it to a nice clean war between Lopoldville and Elizabethville. There was a little laughter around the table at this suggestion; for example, Bundy said that 'we were all certainly a bunch of hawks', but there was an unmistakable undercurrent of seriousness nevertheless.

US military assistance increased dramatically in response to the fall of Stanleyville (Kisangani) to rebel forces on August 4, 1964. Planes provided by the Department of Defense, flown by pilots supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency, augmented the CNAs efforts against an increasingly robust rebel insurgency, which received support from neighboring African nations, the Soviet bloc and Chinese Communists.

On April 24, 1964, President Johnson authorized the Department of Defense to provide the CAF with six T28, ten C47, and six H21 aircraft, plus a 6-month supply of parts and ammunition. The Special Group approved a proposal on May 28, 1964, to provide covert support to the CAF for maintaining the six U.S.-provided T28 aircraft and a minimal helicopter rescue capability, in addition to continued operation of the current six T6 aircraft. The program was further expanded with 303 Committee approval on August 24, 1964, when rebellion throughout the eastern half of the Congo threatened the governments survival.

On October 28, 1965, the 303 Committee approved a request for continuation of covert support to the CAF at its current funding level. A memorandum for the 303 Committee, dated February 5, 1966, proposed continuing covert funding of the air program through CY 1966 at a reduced level, and on February 17, the 303 Committee reduced the air program again. At Deputy Director of Intelligence Helms request, the Committee agreed to await the results of a Joint Chiefs of Staff study to determine the Congos military needs. On July 19, 1966, the 303 Committee approved by telephone contingency air support if a coup were mounted against Mobutu.

By February 1966 the CIA air operation maintained aircraft at the following level: twelve T28s, five B26Ks, one B26B, three C46s, one C45 (102) and three Bell helicopters. The third C46 was acquired in October 1965 because of the increased transport burden borne by the air operation since the withdrawal in mid-August of the Joint Task Force C130s formerly stationed in Leopoldville. Efforts to have the Belgian-piloted C47s of the Congolese Air Force provide the necessary support were unsuccessful. Flying the aircraft were 29 pilots who operated under the supervision of six American air operations officers. There were also 130 ground maintenance personnel, 127 of whom are Europeans; the other three, Americans.

The air operation made a significant contribution in the campaign in the eastern Congo north of Albertville. The campaign opened on the night of 2728 September 1965 with an attack on the rebel stronghold of Baraka and continues in the form of cleanup operations requiring close air support for the ground forces. The other primary area of air activity is in the northeast out of Stanleyville. In general, neither Congolese nor mercenary troops were willing to move without air cover.

The slowly improving military situation permitted a reduction in the pace of tactical air activity. Thus, it was planned to withdraw the B26B from service. It was also planned to reduce further the use of tactical aircraft and eventually eliminate more planes in this category, by providing light aircraft which were less costly to operate and maintain, more efficient for reconnaissance work (which had to be carried out by tactical aircraft), and less visibly US military aircraft.

The U.S. Government failed in its efforts during talks held in Brussels in September 1965 and early February 1966 to persuade the Belgian Government to assume responsibility for the tactical air support program or even for logistical support of the air operation.

On October 10, 1966, the 303 Committee was informed that a State-Defense-CIA working group had been established to draw up plans for the phase-out of the air program. The Committee agreed in early November that a turnover of the U.S.-operated Congolese Air Force to the host government should be effected with all convenient speed, with minimum sacrifice of efficiency and order. On March 3, 1967, a progress report warned that the pace of the phase-out had been delayed and might require underwriting beyond the original estimated date of June 30, 1967, on a month-to-month basis. On March 8, the 303 Committee directed that the project be liquidated as soon as possible.

A June 14 progress report alerted the 303 Committee to the problems arising from the Congolese Governments continued failure to meet its commitment to deposit funds in the account of a maintenance company originally set up under Congolese Government sponsorship to service Congolese aircraft. Finally on June 16, 1967, the Committee refused to authorize further support. The next month, however, a mutiny of white mercenaries and Katangan forces broke out and the 303 Committee directed that the project be extended to December 31, 1967. On November 22, the Committee approved a Department of State recommendation that the contracts of pilots hired on September 4 to fly for the Congolese Government also be extended to December 31. In May 1968, the project was terminated.

The air force had little opportunity to demonstrate its capability; however, during the 1977 Shaba invasion, the air force's combat performance was reportedly no better than the army's. Western observers reported that Zairian pilots flying Italian trainers as fighter-bombers were particularly ineffective; their munitions usually landed harmlessly wide of the targets. During Shaba II, the FLNC destroyed four Aermachi MB-326K counterinsurgency aircraft, one Alouette helicopter, and an SA-330 Puma helicopter on the ground when its forces captured the airport at Kolwezi. The Zairians attempted to use their Mirage jets against the rebels, but to little effect. More recently, four Zairian air force pilots died when their jets collided in mid-air while returning from military exercises at Kamina in 1988.

Several factors affected air force capability. Pilots are often inadequately trained to fly their aircraft; even when trained, funding is normally insufficient to provide an adequate number of flying hours for the pilots to maintain their proficiency. And because of poor maintenance over 75 percent of the aircraft are often nondeployable. The air force's major equipment in the early 1990s included Mirage ground attack fighters; assorted counterinsurgency aircraft; a variety of transport aircraft; military helicopters; liaison aircraft; and training aircraft. Future military requirements include additional transports and spare parts.

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Page last modified: 22-06-2015 21:02:05 ZULU