The Ugandan air force has taken delivery of another two Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighters from Russia, completing the delivery of six aircraft ordered last year.
The first two aircraft were delivered in July last year, followed by another two in October. On May 30 a ‘military diplomatic source’ told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the final two Su-30MKs had been delivered to Uganda.
Russian state arms export agency Rosoboronexport signed a preliminary agreement with Uganda for the aircraft in April 2010, but protracted negotiations, particularly over the price, meant that a deal worth a reported US$740 million was only signed in May 2011.
The first aircraft flew in Uganda on July 11, 2011, followed by the second a day later. One of the first Su-30s delivered was inoperable for three weeks following a bird strike on September 8. The aircraft was taking off from Entebbe military airbase when a bird struck one of the engines, but the pilot was able to land the aircraft safely, according to Uganda’s The Daily Monitor. Rosoboronexport fixed the engine as part of a three-year warranty.
In April Uganda’s Daily Monitor reported that Su-30 pilots were complaining of poor morale and low pay. Two of the eight pilots trained on the Flanker had left for better paid jobs while the remaining six wrote to President Yoweri Museveni, saying that a directive by the President last year to have pilots’ allowances increased had not been implemented.
The pilots claimed that they are only paid 5-10% of what pilots in the commercial sector receive. “A UPDF jet fighter pilot earns an average consolidated monthly pay of US$500 (Shs1.2 million) compared to a pilot in the commercial sector who earns between US$8,000 (Shs19 million) and US$10,000 (Shs24 million) while a co-pilot earns US$5,000 (Shs12 million) to US$7,000 (Shs16 million),” the September 2011 letter reads.
“We presented their plight before the ministries of Defence and Finance and we are waiting for a response,” Brigadier Moses Rwakitarate, Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) Air Wing Chief of Staff told local media.
Uganda’s information minister Kabakumba Matsiko told Reuters that Uganda bought the fighters because they were needed to deal with any ‘eventuality’ arising from threats to Uganda’s security. “Every country needs to be well equipped to defend its strategic interests,” she said.
Earlier this year Uganda’s Red Pepper newspaper quoted anonymous sources as saying that the Su-30s may provide aerial support to UPDF forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, who are acting under the African Union/United Nations mission there (AMISOM). Uganda would be reimbursed for operating the aircraft and is currently waiting for documents to be signed allowing the aircraft to be deployed, the official said.
Uganda is also concerned about instability from neighbouring South Sudan’s secession from Khartoum and instability along the Congolese border. Uganda has previously accused Sudan and Congo of arming its foes, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Jamil Mukulu’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Uganda itself keeps numerous troops in Central African Republic (CAR) and northeastern Congo to hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army rebels who waged a long-running insurgency against Kampala and are now roaming the jungles there.
Since re-invigorating its campaign against the LRA in northern and eastern Uganda in 2002, Uganda has sought to boost official defence spending substantially. The Ugandan government announced in October 2003 that it was to cut expenditure of various government ministries and departments and re-allocate more funds to the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF).
Up until the late 1990s the Ugandan air force was primarily composed of several helicopters, but in 1998 Uganda began to acquire combat aircraft for use in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-2003) and then against the LRA in Uganda and Sudan.
The Ugandan government is focusing on implementing its Defence Strategic Infrastructural Investment Plan (DSIIP), which is professionalising the UPDF and building its capacity. However, operational and personnel requirements have in the past amounted to more than 90 per cent of defence budgets, leaving little money for badly needed overhaul and modernisation programmes, according to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment. Reequipping the UPDF is hampered by the government’s obligation to donors that it will not spend more than 2% of GDP on defence.
The purchase of the SU-30s comes five years after Uganda discovered it possessed oil reserves, which lie in the Albertine Rift Basin on its border with Congo. The two countries share the basin. Tension flared in 2007 when armed Congolese killed a geologist contracted by Heritage Oil after accusing the company of prospecting in their territorial waters.
The discovery of oil has created tensions in the region but also allowed Uganda to pay for new military equipment – when news of the Su-30 deal first emerged, it was reported that the jets would be paid for in oil.
Uganda has a relatively small air force, with the Ugandan People’s Defence Force Air Wing only having five MiG-23 Floggers (believed to be ex-Libyan) and six MiG-21 Fishbeds in the way of fighters, according to the IISS’s The Military Balance 2012. Seven reconditioned MiG-21s, including a two-seater, were acquired from Poland in 1999, and upgraded by IAI in 2002-2005. However, one was lost in a crash in December 2008, killing the pilot.
Uganda’s air arm also has 16 helicopters, but much of Uganda’s aircraft are non-operational – for instance, out of six Mi-24 Hinds, five are non-operational. It is understood that Russian pilots are responsible for flying the helicopter fleet.