Zambian President Michael Sata has said the Zambian Air Force (ZAF) urgently needs to be re-equipped to improve its capability. He said it is presently incapable of defending the country and cannot respond to emergencies and disasters.
The president’s declaration comes as the country faces increasing threats of armed rebellion by the Lozi tribe in the Western Province. The secessionist Barotseland Liberation Army (BLA) claims to have recruited a force of 3 000 rebels who are ready to defend Barotseland against the Zambian army. The government has since deployed several units from the army, the police and intelligence services in a crackdown which has led to the arrest of more than 100 secessionist leaders, activists and supporters.
Last week, Zambia deployed four fighter jets which are reported to be flying reconnaissance missions over rural Barotseland and the provincial capital of Mongu. However, president Sata said the country is lucky not to be at war because the air force is incapable of defending the country in case of attack. Speaking after the commissioning and wings parade of 167 officers at Livingstone Air Base in Livingstone, Sata said the incapacitation of the Air Force poses a national security threat.
“We are lucky there is no war. The Air Force has no transport, not even enough to respond to disasters in the country. I need a list of all the equipment required. We should be more concerned about [Air Force] transport,” Sata said. He added that the ZAF desperately needed to match the number of aircraft with the number of trained pilots. However, ZAF commander General Erick Chimense said the re-equipment of the Air Force has already begun, with the recent acquisition of eight new military helicopters from an unnamed source, four of which have already been delivered to Zambia. These helicopters appear to be Harbin Z-9s from China, which are French Eurocopter AS365 Dauphins built under license.
General Chimense said despite the delivery, the Air Force still needs more aircraft, aircraft technicians and other specialised aviation personnel. He also deplored the state of the ZAF’s main airbases and encroachment onto military airstrips by local authorities, saying this also poses a security risk.
Established in 1968, the ZAF is crippled by a lack of spares while its pilots lack flying hours due to the shortage of aircraft. Defence analysts say the ZAF has very little or no combat capability and would be hard pressed to defend the country if it came under attack.
The ZAF’s capabilities have received minor boosts over the last few years as a result of increasing military co-operation between Zambia and China. The two countries signed a military co-operation protocol in 1998. In 1999 Zambia received eight K-8 Karakorum jet trainers in kit form from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Co-operation and took delivery of another eight in March this year.
In 2006, the ZAF received seven transport planes – five Y12 and two MA60 aircraft – from China.