President Museveni has continued to pursue the air defence revolution that began in July 2011 with the acquisition of a fleet of Su-30 fighter jets.
The Observer has learnt that another fleet of Su-30 fighter jets were delivered in the country early this month.
“Fighter jet planes from Russia were recently delivered at the Entebbe military airbase,” an insider source told The Observer at the weekend.
The cost of the latest acquisition was not immediately established. In September 2012, a Russian news agency, Rianovosti, revealed that Uganda had begun negotiations with Russian state arms export company Rosoboronexport for a possible purchase of six more fighter jets, barely nine months after purchasing half a dozen aircraft from the same firm.
During an arms exhibition in South Africa, the company’s Deputy Director, Alexander Mikheyev, said Uganda had contacted them with a view of purchasing six more Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighter jets.
“Uganda signed its first contract to buy six Su-30MK2 fighters this year, he said.” Now, we are talking about an option, the Ugandans expressed interest in buying another six aircraft of this type,” Rianovosti quoted Mikheyev as saying.
“The exhibition in the republic of South Africa is the largest one on the continent, and it plays an extremely important role in strengthening our positions in Africa. We have planned a very tight schedule of meetings at this exhibition on many issues concerning air defence, air, land and sea systems. And we expect it to be very fruitful,” said the deputy director general of Rosoboronexport.
Some of the weapons displayed at the exhibition for the air systems segment were the Mi-17 and Mi-35 type helicopters, MiG-29M/M2 and Su-30MK2 jets as well as the new Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft. Acting UPDF Spokesman Felix Kulayigye, however, told The Observer on Saturday that if indeed it was true the Russians made any aircraft deliveries, they were meant to complete orders for the first contract.
“I have no information about that, but in any case if those [jets] came; it is a completion of the old contract,” Col Kulayigye said. “They had only delivered two [fighter jets]. We were waiting for more deliveries.”
But that figure of two jets seems to be at variance with what Ugandans witnessed during the aerial display that peaked celebrations to mark the country’s 50th independence anniversary at Kololo last year. At least four fighter jets were scrambled. Earlier this year, Rosoboronexport also indicated that about 65 countries, including Uganda, had made orders for purchase of military equipment, which slightly exceeds $ 37bn.
In December 2012, President Museveni visited Russia, a visit many security sources believed was part of plans to seal the new fighter jet deal. Speaking in Moscow, Museveni told his counterpart Vladimir Putin that Uganda was working toward building its own arms industry. The president’s appointment of Brig Paul Lokech, a fast-rising army officer who helped pacify the volatile Mogadishu, as military attaché to Uganda’s embassy in Moscow, seemed, experts say, to underpin the importance of his new role as a linchpin between the country and its biggest arms supplier.
By July 2011, reports claimed that Russia had completed delivering the first batch of fighter jets in the country. Speaking about what they believe is the latest transaction; military sources claim the delivery was a closely-guarded secret after authorities in Kampala were angered when the Russian state news agency blew the lid on the first transaction.
In March 2011, Russian media houses reported that state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport signed two contracts worth $1.2bn for the delivery of six fighters to Uganda and another 16 to Algeria. The deal raised controversy after government raided the Bank of Uganda reserves for $740m (Shs 1.7 trillion) without Parliament’s approval to purchase the aircraft.
The purchase was followed by arguably the worst economic crisis to hit Uganda in the last quarter a century, characterized by galloping inflation and drastic depreciation of the Uganda shilling. Critics questioned the wisdom of the jets at a time of a global financial squeeze. It emerged last week that the ministry of Health budget next financial year would be slashed by up to Shs 300 billion, with the money likely to go to Defence.
The latest scramble for fighter jets has thrown the volatile Great Lakes region into the throes of an arms race where Uganda has attempted to punch above its own weight. In April 2012, a global arms report showed that Uganda’s military spending had for the first time outstripped Kenya’s. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), Kampala spent $1.02bn— much more than Kenya’s $735m last year.
The report particularly cited Uganda’s acquisition of six SU-30MK Russian fighter jets to make it one of the most elite in East and Central Africa. Highly-placed sources revealed that the country was taking threats by the Khartoum regime seriously, as it had a superior firepower in the skies.
In March 2013, the Speaker of their National Assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, in a thinly-veiled remark said Khartoum was working with the opposition in Uganda to overthrow president Museveni’s regime. ‘It’s these fears,’ sources say, that could have led to such a decision to buy more fighter jets.
Fact-file about fighter jets
The Su-30 fighter plane is a two-seater, multi-role fighter, capable of accomplishing many combat missions at significant distances from the home base in any weather conditions, both by day and night. The tasks range from air defence, air patrol and escort to ground attack, suppression of enemy air defences and maritime attack.
It has high manoeuvrability and unique take-off and landing characteristics, allowing for the aircraft to rapidly strip airspeed and perform on the spot somersault manoeuvres. The aircraft has a speed of 1,350km per hour at low altitude and is capable of performing a 4.5-hour combat mission within a range of 3,000km with a normal fuel reserve.
An in-flight refuelling system increases the flight duration up to 10 hours with a range of 5,200km.