Uganda receives Su-30s

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Uganda has received the first of six Su-30MK fighters bought from Russia, after more than a year of speculation and rumours about the deal.

Deliveries began earlier this month using an Antonov An-124 Ruslan transport aircraft, according to Airliners.net. Engine runs began on July 8 while the first Su-30 flew on July 11, followed by a second the following day.

The Ugandan Daily Monitor reported that defence officials declined to state when the fighters were shipped into Uganda since such information was confidential “since it has a security element.”

News of the Su-30 deal first emerged in April last year, when Russian media reported that Uganda had agreed to buy six Su-30 fighters while Algeria had agreed to buy another 16 for a combined price of US$1.2 billion. However, Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye last year dismissed the reports as false.
“We had negotiations with the Russians over the jet fighters but upon realising that the cost was too high, we decided otherwise,” he said. “We never entered into an agreement with them.” Instead, Kulayigye said that Uganda had sent its six MiG-21 for overhaul in Russia.

Then in December Uganda’s ministry of defence paid US$446m (sh1 trillion) as a first part payment to an ‘unidentified supplier’ from Russia for fighters as well as tanks.

According to The East African, the money came from the supplementary budget and was withdrawn from the central bank without parliamentary approval. “Although the money was not allocated in the 2010/11 financial year, parliament will approve it in the form of a supplementary budget and this is normal,” said Kabakumba Matsiko, Uganda’s information minister. Permission was later granted by parliament, according to The East African.

On April 7 this year the Wall Street Journal reported that Uganda bought between six and eight fighters and other military equipment from Russia, worth US$744 million. Now, solid evidence of the deal has turned up in Uganda.
“The executive arm of government which is mandated with the security matters of this country took a decision to buy these jets because we need them,” Matsiko told Reuters in April. She declined to give more details of the “highly sensitive and classified matter”.
“Acquiring a high air force capacity is in line with that defence policy of protecting territorial integrity and wealth. However, I need to add that this is not a threat to our neighbours. Our policy is defensive and not offensive or aggressive,” Kulayigye said earlier this year.

Matsiko earlier said that the new military equipment would enable the country 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. Uganda is 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.

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 last year, it was reported that the jets would be paid for in oil.

This year the UK’s Tullow Oil Plc, France’s Total SA and China’s Cnooc Ltd will spend US$10 billion to develop Uganda’s oil fields.

Uganda has a relatively small air force, with the Ugandan People’s Defence Force Air Wing only having five MiG-23 Floggers and seven MiG-21 Fishbeds in the way of fighters, according to the 2010 IISS Military Balance. It 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.

Speaking about the Su-30s in May, General Aronda Nyakairima, Chief of the UPDF, said the investment would take pressure off the army for at least 25 years. “There is nothing to celebrate [in the acquisition],” he told journalists, as the UPDF is “late in acquiring the aircrafts.”