Arms race in Africa

Like most regions of the world, Africa is not immune to defense spending. The region seems to be in a low level arms build up. Defense spending world wide actually Increased, and Africa was no exception.

For the peoples of East Africa and the Horn of Africa long accustomed to living with armed conflict as a feature of everyday life, these are indeed uncertain times. During the seven month period between September 2009 and April 2010, reports gleaned from local and international media alike portend an ongoing or impending arms race in the region, as national armed forces within the region ramp up firepower.

SU-27 Fighter bomber

The region itself can best be described as a historically volatile one with most national armies engaged in fighting either full-fledged civil wars or low intensity armed insurrections. Since the formal separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1994 following the successful overthrow of the Marxist dictatorship of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991 and the subsequent rise to power in Asmara(Eritrea) and Addis Ababa(Ethiopia), tensions have simmered between the two neighboring countries.

Both nations have twice, in the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, fought all-out wars in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers battled against each other and for which hundreds of surplus Soviet-era tanks, field and self-propelled artillery, as well as Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopter gunships were acquired from nations of the defunct soviet bloc, mainly Russia and Ukraine. While Eritrea acquired a mix of SU-27 and MiG-29 jets Ethiopia responded by purchasing advanced SU-27 jet fighters.

With increased oil profits, Sudan felt that it had to establish military equilibrium among its neighbors, Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Sudan has since then acquired a squadron of MiG-29 jet fighters and with technical assistance from China with which she maintains a strategic military, economic and diplomatic partnership, has gone into the local assembly of Chinese military hardware ranging from mortars to towed and self-propelled artillery, T59 and Type 96 battle tanks. The Chinese have also supplied Sudan with WS-2 ballistic missiles.

Between the years 2001 and 2009, Sudan placed orders for and took delivery of a vast arsenal of everything including:
In preparation for a possible return to hostilities, the semi-autonomous government of South Sudan has thus far used the Government of Kenya as proxy in its military procurement drive and has been acquiring surplus heavy weaponry from The Ukraine in 2008 and 2009. This has seen the acquisition of 110 units of T72 battle tanks, 122mm rocket artillery and ZU-series 14.5mm and 23mm anti-aircraft machine guns.
T-72 tanks were part of three weapons shipments from Ukraine “ostensibly consigned to the Kenyan Ministry of Defence” but that were in fact under contract to the Government of Southern Sudan, according to the Small Arms Survey. In addition to tanks, the three shipments in 2007 and 2008 are said to include 122 mm vehicle-mounted rocket launchers, 14.5 mm machine guns, 23 mm anti-aircraft cannon, RPG-7 rocket launchers and AKM assault rifles.
Of course this is increasing insecurity in the region.
The United States is meanwhile warning that shipments of arms into Southern Sudan are heightening insecurity there in the run-up to a referendum that could result in the region’s secession…..

Ms Rice spoke with reporters following a January 26 UN Security Council meeting on developments in Sudan. She said UN officials had indicated that heavier weapons now appear to be reaching the South. Specific information on the shipments has not been provided, Ms Rice added.

Violence is escalating in Southern Sudan, which had been at war with Khartoum for 20 years. The UN reports that more than 2000 people were killed in clashes among tribal militias last year. Some of the incidents involved thousands of heavily armed attackers, the UN says.

International monitors worry that the 2005 peace agreement could break down in the coming months, leading to a resumption of the war that killed an estimated two million Sudanese. Tensions are growing as the antagonists prepare for a scheduled 2011 referendum in the South on the question of whether the region should claim independence. “The international community appears completely unprepared to put out the fire that is likely to start in the event of a [peace treaty] breakdown,” the Small Arms Survey says. “It has singularly failed to prevent ongoing weapons flows into this highly volatile environment to date.”

The US government under George W Bush invested considerable diplomatic effort to bring about the peace agreement. And the Obama administration appears determined to prevent that achievement from coming undone.

The State Department has meanwhile contracted with private companies to help train South Sudan’s armed forces. The US says that arrangement does not contravene the peace treaty, which forbids arms shipments to the South without the joint approval of its government and the Khartoum government.

Kenya has also increased its defense spending spree. Since 2007, Kenya have received 32 units of Chinese-built armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft machine guns and Z9-WA attack helicopters from China. Queries have been raised due to the fact the helicopters haven’t flown since January.

The Kenyans have also taken delivery of a squadron of fifteen jet fighters which were acquired from Jordan, even though they are obsolete fighter jets to revamp its fleet.

Kenya’s neighbor, Uganda  which according to statistics available from the UN Register of Conventional Arms Transfers acquired 100 units of surplus T55 tanks from Bulgaria in 1998, the Kampala authorities have since 2003 received 31 units of BMP-2 armored vehicles from Russia, South African-made armored vehicles, Israeli-made Soltam 155mm field artillery guns and Mi-24 helicopter gunships.
Tellingly, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency on April 5, 2010 carried a report about a deal between the Russian state arms exporter (Rosoboronexport) and the Ugandans for the supply of six units of state-of-the-art SU-30MK2 jet fighter bombers could just be the tonic needed to push the arms race to new heights, as wealthier neighbors such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan will most certainly be taking notes of developments. Uganda though denied reports that it had bought the jets.

The question is how smaller and poorer countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti will react in the face of the ever-changing military realities in the region remains to be seen. It is however almost certain that with civil wars or insurrection or both so rife across the region – in Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and elsewhere, the rush to acquire arsenals of heavy weaponry does not seem likely to abate anytime soon.

Up north on the continent, the rivalry continues between Morocco and Algeria. Libya is also getting in the game as well.  According to SIPRI data, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia accounted for around three per cent of global arms imports for the period 2005-2009, but the volume of major conventional arms delivered to North Africa in 2005-2009 has increased by 62 per cent in comparison with 2000-2004. Algeria accounted for around 89 per cent of transfers to North Africa during this period, rising from 18th to 9th largest recipient of major conventional weapons globally. However, Morocco has placed significant orders in 2008 and 2009, leading to concerns that Algeria and Morocco are entering into what is regarded as an ‘arms race’.
Like Algeria, Libya has enjoyed increased revenues from natural resources and has enjoyed being courted by major arms suppliers in recent years. It was expected that after the lifting of the UN arms embargo in 2003 Libya would seek to modernize, upgrade and replace some of the significant quantity of major conventional weapons that had been acquired in the 1970s and 1980s.
However, for the period 2005-2009, Libya was the 110th largest arms importer in the world, according to SIPRI data.  Libya is not expected to lag behind its neighbours with regard to holdings of modern military equipment for long. Ghaddafi has enjoyed the attention lavished upon him by visiting heads of state from France, Italy, Russia and the UK in recent years, and each head of states has been accompanied by arms company representatives and rumours of multi-billion dollar deals for arms and military equipment.
Early this year in February, Libya signed an arms deal with Russia.
The most contentious weapons system that Moammar Gadhafi’s regime will acquire in the deal announced in Moscow Saturday is the S-300PMU2 air-defense missile, one of the most advanced in the world….

According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, Libya is to get two batteries of the S-300.

It will also receive 20 military aircraft — 12-15 Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters, four Su-30s and six Yakovlev Yak-130 combat training aircraft — according to Russian sources.

At a cost of $1 billion, the jets account for the bulk of the Libyan purchase.

Tripoli will also get several dozen T-90 main battle tanks and upgrades for more than 140 Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which are almost obsolescent now, and other weapons systems.

In March 2008, Morocco  purchased of 24 F-16 Block 52+ fighter jets from Lockheed Martin at a cost of $2.4 billion dollars. The purchase was in response to Algeria’s March 2006 $8 billion military-technical cooperation agreement with Russia $1.3 billion of which was allotted for the purchase of 29 single-seater MiG-29SMT fighters and six two-seater MiG-29UB fighters.
Algeria terminated the contract in 2007 upon receipt of the first batch of MiG-29s which, after a technical inspection, were deemed defective and of inferior quality than stipulated.  To redeem itself, Russia renegotiated the contract and offered Algeria new MiG-35 Fulcrum fighter aircraft and 16 Su-30 Flanker fighters.   The Russian government also approved a $2.5 billion contract between Irkut Corporation and the Algerian government to supply the latter with 28 Su-30MKA fighters by 2010.
In June 2009, The Algerian ministry of defense signed a contract with Agusta Westland, an Italian company of the Finmeccanica Group, to purchase 100 helicopters of various nomenclatures for its gendarmerie, police, and civil protection agency. The Finmeccanica Group is already committed to equip the Algerian navy with 6 AW101s helicopters and 4 Super Lynx 300 MK 130.
In October 2008, Morocco ordered 4C-27J tactical transport aircraft from Italy.

On September 9, 2009, Morocco was able to secure congressional approval for the purchase of support equipment and weapons for the F-16C/D Block 50/52 in conjunction with its F-16 contract with Lockheed Martin. The package is valued at $187 million and includes 28 AGM-65D Maverick missile, a tactical, air-to-surface guided missile designed for close air support, interdiction, and defense suppression mission against a variety of tactical targets. It is developed by Hughes Aircraft and Raytheon.

An F-16 can carry up to 6 Mavericks. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government entity that promotes military-to-military contacts in support of U.S. foreign policy and national security interests, has indicated that Morocco was also approved for the purchase of 60 enhanced Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II, a laser guided bomb (LGB) that utilized a Mk82 500-pound general purpose warhead and 28 M-61 vulcan cannons, a Gatling-style rotary gun produced by General Dynamics.

Additionally, Morocco requested the installation of communications, air combat pods, targeting pods, ground stations, night vision goggles (NVGs), joint mission planning systems, and radar warning receivers. This latest procurement will increase the interoperability between the U.S. and Morocco and enhance asset capabilities in bi-lateral terrorism prevention operations in the region.

Morocco then in October of that year, signed a contract to buy three CH-47D Chinook helicopters and associated parts, equipment and logistical support for an estimated cost of $134 million.

Earlier this year, a Moroccan air force delegation led by Colonel M’hamed Saufi toured Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Personnel from Morocco’s Royal Air Force are currently being trained at Luke’s and 162nd Fighter Wing airbase in Tucson, Arizona on the mission support, maintenance of F-16 and the organizational elements involved in the base operations of a fighter wing, i.e., civil engineers and fire department, communications, logistics readiness, security forces, and base services. Morocco is currently building an air force base specifically designed to support F-16 operations.

It is worth noting that, with $5.4 billion worth of arms contracts, Morocco is the third top-buyer of military hardware and weaponry in the developing world in 2008, surpassed only by United Arab Emirates, with $9.7 billion in arms deals, and Saudi Arabia, with $8.7 billion.  The United States holds 70.1 percent of the arms market; its arms sales in 2008 totaled $29.6 billion. Russia comes in a far second with $3.3 billion.

Considering that Morocco and Algeria are embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over “Western Sahara,” analysts are voicing serious concerns that the two countries are gearing up for an arms race that will upset the delicate status quo balance of the increasingly
bifurcated Maghreb.

The sad news is that neither, Algeria, nor Morocco, will get to use those expensive jet fighters. Both countries are neither in peace, nor war. It’s a waste of money and resources. For the both countries who suffer major unemployment crisis, a poor infrastructure (Algeria), and foreign exchange reserves (Morocco), they better focus their resources on what matters most: fighting corruption, promoting small business, and increasing trade between them.

Libya on the other hand is just trying to increase its prestige and lets not forget khadafi is sometimes……well not the most rational leader.

Egypt is also upgrading its fleet of F-16 fighter jets.  The Egyptian Air Force is the 4th largest F-16 operator in the world, mustering about 195 aircraft of 220 ordered.

Video report on the arms race.

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  1. THERE are reports on some east african bloggs that Kenya IS SEEKING TO acquire F15 E from the states in order to counter the reported Ugandan acquisition of the SU 30MK
    infact some top Kenyan Airforce general reportedly visited one US airbase last month july2010 where the were over 45 retired F15E FIGHTER JETS…just rumors or any substance?

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