Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) commander Air Marshall Perence Shiri says the economic sanctions imposed on the country’s strategic sectors in 2002 have severely degraded the country’s air defence capabilities as the force has not been able to acquire new aircraft, spare parts and other equipment.
The sanctions, which were imposed at the height of political violence in the country in March 2002 targeted strategic state institutions and parastatals which were accused by the United States and the European Union of either propping up or supporting the government of President Robert Mugabe in committing alleged human rights abuses against opposition party supporters.
Addressing military leadership graduates at the Zimbabwe Defence College last week, Shiri praised the AFZ for its steadfastness in defence of the country. He said the force is still excelling despite working under difficult conditions characterised by the lack of essential equipment which the country cannot access directly because of the Western arms embargo.
“The Western imposed sanctions have not spared the AFZ from the harsh economic environment, especially the acquisition of new equipment and back-up spares. The economic sanctions affected the acquisition of new aircraft, spare parts and support equipment. The financial demands for the above have become exorbitant as most purchases have to be done using sanctions busting measures the country has established so far.”
Shiri said the AFZ critically needs spare parts to refurbish several grounded aircraft and replacement parts for equipment such as radar and aerial defence systems. His call for a lifting of the embargo comes a few months after ZDF Commander-In-Chief President Mugabe bemoaned the effects of sanctions on the pilot training and operational needs of the AFZ.
Mugabe officiated at the recent graduation ceremony of 11 pilots whom he commended for successfully completing the training programme without basic equipment they could not access because of the Western arms embargo.
“As a result of the sanctions, the Air Force of Zimbabwe has experienced a severe shortage of aircraft spares and other resources. Government is well aware of the need to upgrade the Air Force of Zimbabwe’s training and operational equipment. Efforts are under way to pursue initiatives that will ensure the realisation of adequate financial resources to enable the upgrading as well as acquisition of new aircraft and equipment,” Mugabe said.
The AFZ’s last major aircraft upgrade programme involved the acquisition of 12 K-8 jet trainer aircraft from China in 2006. The aircraft were acquired to replace a fleet of British-made BAE Hawks, most of which have since been grounded due to lack of spare parts.
The AFZ aircraft inventory also includes MiG-23 multi-role jets, Chengdu F-7 fighter jets, Shenyang F-5 fighter/trainers, Ilyushin and Antonov transports. It also operates some Cessna and CASA 212 light utility transports and a wide range of helicopters which include Augusta Bell 412s, Alouette III and Russian-made Mi-24V, Mi-35 and Mi-8Hip C assault helicopters.
However most of fleet was lost during combat operations during the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The remainder has been grounded for years due to lack of spare parts.