Malian Air Force commissions Bayraktar TB2 UAVs and other aircraft

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Mali’s Air Force continues to expand through new equipment deliveries, with the most recent batch of hardware accepted into service including Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Turkey and L-39 trainer and light attack jets from Russia.

On 16 March, Transitional President Colonel Assimi Goita officially handed over the UAVs and L-39s to the Air Force at Bamako’s International Airport, where three TB2s and four L-39s were displayed.

The UAVs have been in service for some time, with two being displayed at Air Base 200 at Mopti-Sevare airport in December 2022, but the official induction into service has only come now. The registration numbers on the Turkish-made UAVs (TZ-04D, TZ-05D, and TZ-06D) indicate that six have been acquired along with at least one ground control station. Mali is the fifth country in West Africa to acquire Bayraktar TB2s after Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Nigeria. Rwanda is apparently interested in acquiring the type as well.

Four L-39 jets were also seen on 16 March, wearing desert camouflage paint, with registrations TZ-34C, TZ-15C, TZ-36C, and TZ-10C. In January, Mali commissioned into service five L-39s wearing darker camouflage (Z-18C, TZ-19C, TZ-30C, TZ-32C, and TZ-35C), along with two Mi-8 helicopters (TZ-94H and TZ-95H), and a single Su-25 strike aircraft (TZ-25C). The latter replaced a Su-25 (TZ-29C) that crashed in October 2022, killing the Russian pilot.

During the 16 March handover, Air Force Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Aliou Boï Diarra, said the newly arrived TB2s significantly increase observation, reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence capabilities as well as provide air strike capabilities.

Defence Minister Colonel Sadio Camara said security is an important objective for Mali, and the new equipment will help ensure peace and freedom of movement for the population. He added that the Malian military is on the offensive against terrorists.

Mali has been battered by an extremist campaign that began in the north of the country in 2012, with attacks spreading into Niger and Burkina Faso as well. As a result, Mali has turned to Russia to supply equipment and paramilitary forces to shore up its military.

The January and March aircraft handovers come months after Mali commissioned multiple aircraft acquired from Russia in August 2022, when officials received one Su-25 jet, four L-39 jet trainers, an Mi-24P attack helicopter, an Mi-8 transport helicopter and a single Airbus C295 tactical transport aircraft. The C295 aircraft is the second to be acquired, with the first delivered in December 2016. Two Mi-24Ps were delivered to Mali on 30 March 2022, along with Protivnik-GE/59N6-TE mobile radars from Russia. Mali also recently acquired four Mi-35s from Russia.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfers database, Mali in 2020 ordered four Mi-8MT/Mi-17Sh helicopters from Russia for $61 million including training and weapons, with deliveries from 2021.