UPDF, Norinco establishing UAV workshop in Uganda as defence indigenisation efforts continue

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Uganda is making great strides building up its local defence industry, ranging from armoured vehicle assembly to aircraft maintenance, with unmanned aerial vehicles now in the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF’s) sights.

Uganda’s Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs and China’s Norinco (North Industries Corporation) recently signed a cooperation agreement and this resulted in defence minister Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempjjja together with the Executive President of Norinco, Yang Xiaoqing, groundbreaking a ‘comprehensive’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) workshop in Nakasongola at the end of last year.

The two also commissioned a Joint Research and Innovation Centre, and ANFO explosives production line for explosives company Kyoga Dynamics, a joint venture between Uganda’s National Enterprise Corporation (NEC) and China Wanbao Engineering Company, a Norinco subsidiary.

Ssempijja thanked the Norinco delegation for their willingness to share knowledge in building the defence capacity of Uganda and said that research and innovation are key to the development of Uganda’s defence capacity.

Xiaoqing said the commissioning and groundbreaking events marked a milestone in the history of the cooperation between Uganda and Norinco. “In six months, a workshop dedicated to the final assembly, testing, maintenance and training of UAVs will rise up here and will be a turning point for Uganda’s take-off of the UAV industry, a new important field for defence modernisation,” he said.

He added that this cooperation will enhance Uganda’s military capabilities, drive economic development and elevate Uganda’s international influence.

The Chief of the UPDF, General Wilson Mbadi, said that partnership with Norinco in the expansion of aerospace and defence facilities is a demonstration of the ever-growing relationship between the Republic of Uganda and the Peoples Republic of China. “As two cooperative sides, we have made major breakthroughs in the theme of developing and modernising our forces to create internal effectiveness and efficiency that has well been tested internally and in the region,” he said.

He commended Norinco for their commitment and speed towards developing and setting up the facilities which will go a long way in creating capacity for the UPDF.

Uganda has been making great strides in developing its local defence industry and in August 2018 officially launched an Armoured Vehicle Manufacturing and Assembly Facility in Maga Maga. Its first product was the Mamba-based Nyoka armoured personnel carrier, created in collaboration with South Africa’s Twiga Services and Logistics via its Ugandan sister company Impala Services and Logistics. Manufacture and assembly of the vehicles began in 2013 under a transfer of technology agreement.

In 2021 the UPDF commissioned the locally manufactured Chui (Leopard) infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), which is based on Twiga’s Nyati. The Chui is manufactured by the Armoured Vehicle Manufacturing and Assembly Facility.

Then in July 2022, the UAE-based Streit opened a new armoured vehicle factory in Uganda in partnership with the National Enterprise Corporation. In mid-October 2021, NEC announced the partnership with Streit Group for the manufacture of armoured vehicles in Nakosongola in central Uganda. The new company, NEC-Streit Uganda Ltd, provides a variety of security solutions, including through technology transfer. Mbadi said the armoured vehicle plant would produce vehicles for Uganda’s military, police, VIPs, and regional requirements.

On the aviation side, Uganda in January 2022 commissioned a helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility. The first locally overhauled Mi-24 helicopter was commissioned in April the following year.

The facility is a joint venture by the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC) and Pro-Heli International, a Russian company. According to Pro-Heli, the company has been partnering with Uganda since 2016. Its core products and services are the overhaul of Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters.

The state-owned NEC is the commercial arm of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). The NEC was established in 1989 by an Act of the Parliament of Uganda. Its investments and activities include agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, services, and defence industry projects and companies. Its commercial ventures are undertaken through its subsidiaries and joint ventures. Joint ventures are with Kyoga Dynamics, NEC-Streit, and Pro-Heli.