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Sudan Air Force

The air force has been largely dependent on foreign assistance since its inception in 1957, when four primary trainer aircraft were delivered by Egypt. The British provided most aircraft and training (some in Sudan and some in Britain) before 1967. After that time, Soviet and Chinese advisers and technicians assumed a supportive role, and their equipment became the foundation for the Sudanese air force in the 1970s. These aircraft included Soviet-built MiG-17 and MiG-21 fighter-bombers and Chinese-built J-5 (essentially the same as the MiG-17) and J6 (practically identical to the Soviet MiG-19) fighter-bombers. Seven Northrop F-5Es and two F-5Fs were delivered by the United States beginning in 1981, but plans to acquire additional F-5s never materialized because funds were not available. Libya transferred five Soviet MiG-23s in 1987.

As of 1990, combat aircraft were organized into two fighter/ground attack squadrons (one with the nine F-5s and the other with ten J-5s), and one fighter squadron with J-6s. A second fighter squadron of MiG-21s and MiG-23s was listed, although it was believed that as of 1991 all of the MiGs were nonoperational with the exception of one MiG-23. The combat squadrons were armed with Soviet Atoll and American Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Sudan had no bomber force. In 1986 it was reported that Libyan Tu-22 bombers had been used against rebel positions in the south. Other bombing attacks were carried out by transport planes.

The actual state of readiness of the combat arm of the air force was uncertain, but it was believed that much of the equipment was not in serviceable condition owing to a shortage of parts and inadequate maintenance. Pilot proficiency training was limited by fuel shortages that kept aircraft grounded. A small contingent of Chinese technicians assisted with maintenance and pilot training. A few training aircraft were also supplied by the Chinese. The air force had been of little value in providing air cover for ground operations in the south. The SPLA boasted that its shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) had brought down many aircraft, claiming that several jet fighters had been destroyed, as well as a number of helicopters and transports.

The transport arm of the air force was of central importance in maintaining supply links with beleaguered southern garrisons. The single transport squadron received six C-130H Hercules transports from the United States in 1978 and 1979. Although one was damaged by an SPLA missile in 1987, the five aircraft still operational in 1991 provided airlift capability essential to government garrisons in the south. The air force also had two Canadian-built DHC-5D Buffalo transports and two Soviet An-12 heavy cargo transports, as well as four smaller Casa C-212 Aviocars from Brazil.

The air force had a number of unarmed helicopters available for ground support operations against the southern rebels, although it was estimated that as many as 50 percent were not in flying condition. The newest helicopter models were French designed SA-330 Pumas assembled in Romania and Agusta/Bell 212s manufactured in Italy.

The two main bases of the air force were at Khartoum International Airport and Wadi Sayyidna Air Base north of Omdurman. The air force also had facilities at civilian airports, including those at Atbarah, Al Fashir, Juba, Malakal, Al Ubayyid, Port Sudan, and Wad Madani.

By 2004 the air force had a strength of 3,000, including air defense forces. The air force had an estimated 27 combat aircraft (serviceability questionable), 10 armed helicopters, 25 unarmed helicopters, and 5 batteries of surface-to-air missiles.

In 1996 Sudan purchased six F7M fighters from China, and another two Y8 transport aircraft are also in service. Western military observers believe that those Chinese weapons were paid for with Sudanese oil. Other Chinese weapons currently in service in the Sudanese forces include Type 54 122-mm howitzers, Type 59-I 130-mm cannons, Type 81 122-mm rocket guns, Type 59 57-mm air-defense guns, mortars of different calibers, eight J-6 fighters and a number of J-7M fighters. Sudan expressed interest in 2008 in purchasing 12 Chinese FC1 fighters, and the two sides were negotiating technical details of the deal, which by 2014 had come to nothing.

By 2013 the Sudanese government was making strenuous efforts with Russia to expedite a deal for assault helicopters and helicopter gunships. On order were 12+6 Mi-8T and 12+6 Mi-24D/V/P. Although Khartoum was ready to pay cash, the Kremlin was not rushing the deal for political-strategic reasons. The Sudanese acquisition of these weapon systems was accompanied by the recruitment of "mercenaries" – aircrews, technical experts and ground crews – to get Sudan’s existing arsenal of 20 Mi-8/Mi-17 assault and 24 Mi-24 combat helicopters into better operational status, and have highly qualified aircrews in the cockpits.

The air defense command maintained its headquarters at Port Sudan and was commanded by a major general. A secondary command post was at Omdurman. One of its two brigades was equipped with antiaircraft guns and the other was armed with SAMs. The three battalions of SAMs had been introduced to provide high- and medium-altitude air defense for Port Sudan, Wadi Sayyidna, and Khartoum. In the absence of Soviet technicians who had serviced the missiles and associated radar during the 1970s, the SA-2 systems were considered to be nonoperational.

The second air defense brigade was deployed to provide tactical air defense in the Western Command and Southern Command. In addition to Vulcan 20mm self-propelled guns supplied by the United States, it was equipped with a variety of weapons whose operational status was uncertain. Fire control and acquisition radar for the Vulcan and other systems was provided by the United States, Egypt, and France. The vulnerability of Sudanese air defenses was exposed in 1984 when a Libyan Tu-22 bomber was able to overfly much of the country in daylight, dropping bombs in the vicinity of the national radio station at Omdurman at a time of tension between Nimeiri and Qadhafi.

The UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan deployed fighter jets on 26 March 2015 to join the Saudi air force in the ongoing air campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The UAE has deployed 30 fighter jets, Bahrain 15, Kuwait 15, Qatar 10 and Jordan 6 warplanes. Pakistan and Egypt also took part in the military campaign, contributing air and naval forces. Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan have also expressed readiness to contribute ground troops against the Houthis.

Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir announced April 1, 2015 that the country's air force swung into action as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. “Sudanese pilots are representing you well as they fly their jets over the skies of Yemen in support of legitimacy and to defend the security of the Two Holy Mosques [in Saudi Arabia],” Bashir said at a campaign rally in Central Darfur state capital of Zalingi.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2015 20:24:14 ZULU