From a Central European perspective, a continent with so many reasons to flee, especially to Europe, would have other needs than the procurement of fighter jets. Many observers see fighter jets more as part of the problem that is driving Africans out of Africa. In discussions, one often hears the simplistic argument that arms sales are used to transfer European development funds directly to Rosoboronexport or the Chinese AVIC. But that is only half the truth. Africa is very diverse, and many former failed states, marked by endless civil wars and hostilities against their neighbours, are now relatively prosperous by African standards, but are still – or at least their leaders are – haunted by the shadows of a conflict-laden past and therefore still rely on strong forces and a lot of patriotism and national pride. According to the Austrian Greens, we Europeans are cured of such attitudes and therefore do not need to replace or renew our arsenals, as we are surrounded by friends. The Angolans, for example, will certainly not agree with this. Yes, the war there is long over, but you never know. And the state leadership likes to sit on flagged grandstands.
Recently, FANA (Portuguese for Força Aérea Nacional Angolana) put into operation eight of twelve Sukhoi Su-30SMs delivered in early 2019. However, they are not new-build aircraft – and European Security & Defence (ESD) has been monitoring these aircraft for a long time. In 1996, India bought 40 Su-30K and -MK aircraft. 18 of these early 2nd generation Flankers (8 Su-30K and 10 Su-30MK) did not have features such as canards and thrust vectoring and were replaced by more advanced and Indo-adapted Su-30MKIs.
“These Huge Beasts are Agile!”
Fifteen years ago, six of these Su-30K of Squadron No. 24 (Hunting Hawks) took part in the Indo-French exercise “Garuda II” in Istres and also a journalist from ESD was present on the runway and in the briefing room, remembering a MIRAGE-2000 pilot in debriefing who shouted: “Mon Dieu, these huge beasts are agile!” – without the need for TVC or thrust vector control.
When India later received the 272 improved Su-30MKIs, the 18 SU-30Ks were returned to Russia and then offered to the African nations. After they were dismantled and stored for many years, Angola purchased 12 of these aircraft in 2013 for an estimated US$1 billion. They may be used, but they are still capable fighter planes, certainly in Africa. However, they were not delivered until the end of 2019, as confirmed by Angola’s Defence Minister Salviano de Jesus Sequira Kianda, who also pointed out that four of the 12 jets are intended as spare parts and may never fly.
Since 2015, these jets have then been sighted – thanks to an eye-catching cammo-scheme also on satellite images – in Belarus, where they are allegedly brought up to SM standard at the Baranovichi aircraft repair plant. Since Soviet times, this plant has been the main contractor for MRO work on the Su-27 series, from which the Su-30 was derived. For those who have a penchant for Cold War jets and exotic air forces, a visit to Baranovichi is recommended; the facility also regularly exhibits at events such as IDEX, the Bahrain Air Show and Aero-India.
US$4 Billion for 20 African Nations
Dmitry Shugayev, Director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi: “We have completed the delivery of our Su-30K fighter jets to Angola and are currently looking for a buyer for the remaining six aircraft. And Rosoboronexport Director General Alexander Mikheev stated in Dubai that Russia estimates that US$4 billion worth of Russian weapons have been delivered to Africa in 2019. “I’m talking about planes, helicopters, antiaircraft, armored carriers, small arms and anti-tank missile systems. And we are currently negotiating contracts for the supply of military equipment to 20 African countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and Angola.”
Upgrade You Should
Alexander Vorobey, Deputy Director of Development at Baranovichi Aviation Repair Plant, said that “Angola’s Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft have been upgraded to Su-30SM standard, giving them the ability to fire Kh-31 and Kh-59 anti-ship and VYMPEL R-77 air-to-air missiles from 12 hard points. They have also been equipped with jamming devices. And the contract included the supply of a flight simulator and training aids from Belarus.”
To the best of our knowledge, the current Su-30SM would be an upgraded version like the Su-30MKI (India) and -MKM (Malaysia), but tailored to the Russian Air Force (VKS). It would be equipped with improved avionics, including a glass cockpit and Bars R radar, but with canard-foreplanes and the AL-31FP engines with TVC engine-nozzles for improved manoeuvrability. However, as both features are not visible on the latest pictures from Angola, it remains unclear how much of the “regular” Su-30SM upgrades these Angolan aircraft have received.
Africa’s largest Flanker operator is Algeria and then Uganda, while the condition of the few early models in Ethiopia and Eritrea is unknown to pessimistic. Nevertheless, a new U.S. sanction case could develop around the Flanker’s youngest sister – the Su-35S. According to ESD sources in the MENA region and in Russia, Egypt’s President Al-Sissi ordered this latest variant in early 2019 – and, like the Turks with the Russian S-400 air defence system, has already had to defend it against disapproval from Washington.