Oscara Nkala and Jon Lake look at the rise and rise of the Força Aérea Nacional de Angola (FANA) – the Angolan Air Force.
The Angolan Air Force was originally established on January 21 1976 as the Força Aérea Popular de Angola/Defesa Aérea e Anti aérea (FAPA/DAA – People’s Air Force of Angola/Air and Anti-aircraft Defence). Established along Soviet lines and equipped with aircraft supplied by the USSR, Eastern European nations and Cuba, the FAPA/DAA made extensive use of ‘advisors’ from these countries, and sent many of its own personnel abroad for training.
The air force was extensively engaged in the civil war, which lasted from November 1975 until 2002, and in defending Angolan airspace against South African incursions during South African Air Force operations against South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas.
Large numbers of the aircraft delivered to the Força Aérea Popular de Angola, which was renamed as the Força Aérea Nacional de Angola by 2007, are no longer operational, including the Sukhoi Su-24 ‘Fencer’ and Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ fighter-bombers and all of the Hercules (six C- 130Ks, three L-100-20s, and two L-100-30s).
Perhaps most surprisingly, the eight Sukhoi ‘Flankers’ delivered from 1998 (six Su-27s and two Su-27UBs from surplus Belarusian stocks) are no longer operational. Initially flown by Ukrainian pilots and supported by Ukrainian ground crew, one was shot down by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) on November 19 2000, and the remainder gradually became un-airworthy, so that by 2015, FlightGlobal’s World Air Forces census listed just one aircraft as remaining active.
Angola has kept a squadron of about 14 ex- Slovakian Sukhoi Su-22M4s operational. These aircraft were upgraded in 2008, receiving new mission computers, embedded GPS inertial (EGI) laser designators, and new cockpit displays. The upgrade was undertaken by Poland’s WZL-2.
In recent years, Angola’s air force has taken delivery of six Embraer Super Tucano multi-role light attack/trainer aircraft originally ordered from Embraer in March 2013, as well as six new Cessna 172R elementary training aircraft.
The latter aircraft have been acquired as part of an intensive new in-country training programme for military aviation personnel. This resulted in the graduation of 61 engineers in 2013, together with the first five fully locally-trained MiG-23 fighter pilots. In 2014, 61 more graduated from the Lobito Military Aeronautical Training School included 10 pilots – five to fly the MiG 23 fighters.
Angola also plans to upgrade the air force’s support facilities, opening a new aircraft and helicopter maintenance hangar at the Lobito facility.
Angola has invested heavily in its transport and logistics infrastructure, including airfields, paying the bill from the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA). Its wealth comes from Angola’s commodity exports, principally the 100,000 barrels of crude oil sold abroad each day. Angola has already paved 31 new runways – and will soon have the largest airport on the continent. Airport improvement will benefit both military and civil aviation.
Angola’s internal security situation has remained stable since the signing of the April 2002 peace deal, which ended 27 years of civil war. This lengthy period of peace has led senior officers and politicians to use the Angolan armed forces to support United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in Africa.
In order to support the Angolan armed forces as they prepare to take up their first UN mission in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) the air force was taking delivery of a number of Russian-made helicopters and air defence systems this year.
The new helicopters will support a deployment by approximately 1,800 Angolan servicemen, and will be flown by a group of Angolan pilots who have recently graduated from an intensive specialised, six-year helicopter pilot training programme in Russia.
“We are creating the necessary conditions to enable the Angolan staff to support the UN peacekeeping mission,” explained General Sachipengo Nunda, chief of staff of the Forças Armadas Angolanas (FAA).
In the longer term, the Angolan Air Force is said to be looking to procure new training, fighter, and heavy transport aircraft, though the recent acquisition of new EMB -314s and ex-Peruvian EMB-312s may have taken some of the urgency out of the requirement to acquire a replacement for the L-39 Albatros jet trainer.
More pressing is Angola’s requirement for a new multi-role fighter. The country has already placed a further order of 12 second-hand ex- Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MK fighter jets from Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport. The aircraft belong to the Irkut Corporation but are being stored at the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant at Baranovichi in Belarus, where they will be refurbished and upgraded with new communications, avionics, electronic warfare and armament systems before being delivered to Angola.
Angola also has a requirement for a heavy-lift transport aircraft to replace its already retired Hercules and dwindling fleet of Antonov An-12 ‘Cub’ aircraft.
The two most likely candidates would seem to be the Embraer KC-390 and the advanced ‘J model’ of the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules.
Angola was one of two African countries (with South Africa) to send representatives to the roll- out of the new Embraer KC-390 heavy-lift transport aircraft at the company’s Gaviao Peixoto factory in Sao Paulo on October 21 2014.
With a maximum payload of 26tonnes, including 80 troops or 64 paratroopers, three Humvee-sized vehicles or a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter, the KC-390 is also equipped to act as an air-to-air refuelling tanker, and has provision for an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) pod for secondary ISR and search-and- rescue (SAR) missions.
As well as offering a bigger payload than the C- 130J, the KC-390 also enjoys a higher operating altitude, and much faster speed.
The Angolan Air Force has also evaluated the C-130J Hercules and is believed to be analysing the results of its evaluations with a view to ordering one or other of the competing airlifters.