Air Force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Not to be confused with Congolese Air Force. ‹See Tfd›
Air Force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Active 1961–Present
Country Democratic Republic of the Congo
Size Numbers of aircraft uncertain
1,800 personnel (estimated)
Part of Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Commanders
Chief of Staff Rigobert Masamba Musungu, a major-general[1]
Insignia
Roundel Congo Air force roundel variant.svg

The Air Force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo Air Force (French: "Force Aérienne Congolaise", or FAC), is the air force branch of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (aka Congo-Kinshasa). From 1971 to 1997, the Air Force was known as the Zaire Air Force (French: "Force Aérienne Zairoise", or FAZ).

History[edit]

The FAC was officially created in 1961, out of the remains of the colonial aviation service of the Belgian Congo. It originally operated light aircraft, transport aircraft and helicopters. The first combat aircraft, some armed T-6 Texan trainers, were added in 1962.

A Central Intelligence Agency front company, Anstalt WIGMO, provided maintenance support to large parts of the FAC in the 1964–1968 period. The CIA also provided aircraft during the same period and pilots from late 1962 onwards.

In July 1970 the Institute for Strategic Studies described the Force Aérienne Zairoise (FAZ) as numbering 650 with 21 combat aircraft. Aircraft strength was listed as ten T-6 Texan and eight T-28 Trojan armed trainers, two DC-4 and ten DC-3 transports, and six Alouette helicopters. The ISS said that 17 MB-326GB ground attack/trainer aircraft were on order, of which about five had been received.[2]

In July 1974 the International Institute for Strategic Studies described the FAZ as numbering 800 personnel with 33 aircraft. The Military Balance for 1974–75 listed one fighter wing with 17 MB-326GB, 6 AT-6G and 10 T-28 armed trainers, one transport wing with 9 C-47, 4 C-54, and 3 C-130, one training wing wing with 8 T-6 and 12 SF-260MC, and one helicopter squadron with 20 Aérospatiale Alouette II/III and 7 Aérospatiale SA 330 Pumas.[3] It noted that 17 Mirage V and 3 C-130H were on order.

The Air Combat Information Group states that by the mid-1980s the FAZ suffered from the same problems as the rest of the Zairean military, including lack of funding and widespread corruption.[4] In the 1980s the air force was theoretically organised into the 1er Groupement Aérien, at Kinshasa (N'djili Airport?), with the 19th Logistics Support Wing (C-130s and Dakotas), the 12th Liaison Wing (helicopters, MU-2Js, and Cessna 310Rs) and the 13th Training Wing. The 2e Groupement Aérien Tactique at Kamina comprised the 21st Fighter-Attack Wing with Mirage 5s and MB.326Ks, and the 22nd Tactical Transport Wing, with 221 Squadron operating the two of three originally delivered Buffalos.[5]

The extreme corruption of the force meant that Zairean aircraft were more often used for private 'business' of their fliers and their superiors[6] than operations against rebels. From an originally delivered eight Dassault Mirage 5Ms,[7] only seven were left by 1988, with five being lost in different accidents. By the mid-1990s the last three were sold. Michela Wrong's In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo reports a story that the remaining Mirages were sold in France whilst there for maintenance, in order to finance a Zairean air force commander's retirement.[8]

The FAZ played little part in the First Congo War, with most aircraft inoperable. Some aircraft were imported and used by Serbian mercenaries, but had little operational effect.[4]

Current structure[edit]

As of 2007, all military aircraft in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were operated by the Air Force. Jane's World Air Forces states that the Air Force has an estimated strength of 1,800 personnel and is organised into two Air Groups. These Groups command five wings and nine squadrons, of which not all are operational. 1 Air Group is located at Kinshasa and consists of Liaison Wing, Training Wing and Logistical Wing and has a strength of five squadrons. 2 Tactical Air Group is located at Kamina and consists of Pursuit and Attack Wing and Tactical Transport Wing and has a strength of four squadrons. Foreign private military companies have reportedly been contracted to provide the DRC's aerial reconnaissance capability using small propeller aircraft fitted with sophisticated equipment. Jane's states that People's Air and Air Defence Force of Angola fighter aircraft would be made available to defend Kinshasa if it came under attack.[9]

Like the other services, the Congolese Air Force is not capable of carrying out its responsibilities. Few of the Air Force's aircraft are currently flyable or capable of being restored to service and it is unclear whether the Air Force is capable of maintaining even unsophisticated aircraft. Moreover, Jane's states that the Air Force's Ecole de Pilotage is 'in near total disarray' though Belgium has offered to restart the Air Force's pilot training program.[10]

Brigadier General Bitanihirwa Kamara was chief of staff in 2005.[citation needed]

Djedje Namba, a major-general, was named chief of staff of the air force in June 2007.[1]

Aircraft[edit]

Democratic Republic of Congo Air Force Mil Mi-8, February 2011

The IISS Military Balance 2007 lists the Air Force with 6 combat capable jet aircraft (2 MiG-23 Flogger and 4 Su-25 Frogfoot) and 7+ helicopters, 6 Mi-24 Hind, 1 Mi-26 Halo, and an unknown number of Mi-8 Hips. The IISS estimates air force strength at 4,000.[11]

Jane's World Air Forces 2007 stated that the Air Force has four fixed-wing aircraft in service (2 C-130, 1 DHC-5D, 1 Boeing 727) and an unknown number of Su-25s (no more than 8 in the air force's fleet following losses), C-47s, MB-326GBs and possibly some MiG-23s. Jane's also states that the Air Force operates between 9 and 22 Mil Mi-24/35s attack helicopters, a Super Puma transport helicopter and possibly a single Mi-26. The condition of the DRC's aircraft which are not currently in service is generally so poor that they cannot be repaired and returned to flyable status.[12]

The DRC's single Mil Mi-26 'Halo' was shown as a photo in Air Forces Monthly (AFM)'s July 2007 issue without obvious rust and appearing to be in good condition which was taken on April 12, 2007, at Lubumbashi.[13] It was delivered in 2005. AFM says that a second Mi-26 prepared for the DRC has been stored with Skytech at Liège Airport, Belgium since at least June 2002, and was still there in May 2007.

On the 50th Independence Commemoration June 30, 2010, at least 6 Mi-24, 2 Mi-17, 1 An-26, and 1 B727 took part in a fly-past.[14]

Aircraft Type Versions In service[15] Notes
Aermacchi MB-326 trainer
attack
MB-326GB
MB-326K
8 Originally 8 GB and 6 K; by mid-1990s only 8 total[4]
Aermacchi SF-260 trainer SF-260M 5
Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III utility helicopter SA 316B 2
Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma transport helicopter SA 330 4
Antonov An-26 Coke tactical transport 1
Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander utility transport BN-2A 1
Cessna 150 utility 12
Cessna 310 utility 3
de Havilland Canada DH-5 Buffalo tactical transport 2 DHC-5D
Douglas C-47 Skytrain tactical transport C-47 4
Eurocopter AS 332 Cougar transport helicopter AS 332 1
Lockheed C-130 Hercules tactical transport C-130H 2 2 more impounded in France
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger fighter MiG-23MS
MiG-23UB
1
1
Mil Mi-8
Mil Mi-35 Hind-E attack helicopter Mi-35 6
Mil Mi-26 Halo transport helicopter 1 Serial 9T-HM15
Reims Cessna 337 Skymaster liaison FTB 337 MILROLE 10
Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot attack Su-25K 8?

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooper, Tom & Weinert, Peter (2010). African MiGs: Volume I: Angola to Ivory Coast. Harpia Publishing LLC. ISBN 978-0-9825539-5-4.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jean Omasombo et al., 2009, 166.
  2. ^ ISS Military Balance 1970–71, p.47-48
  3. ^ IISS, Military Balance 1974–75, p.45
  4. ^ a b c Tom Cooper & Pit Weinert, Zaire/DR Congo since 1980, 2 September 2003, Air Combat Information Group, accessed August 2007
  5. ^ Lindsay Peacock, The World's Air Forces, Salamander, 1991, p.156
  6. ^ See for example Jean-François Bayart, L'etat en Afrique: La Politique du Ventre, 1989
  7. ^ Jackson, Paul. "Mirage III/5/50 Variant Briefing: Part 3: The Operators". World Air Power Journal Volume 16, Spring 1994, p. 119. London: Aerospace Publishing. ISBN 1-874023-36-0.
  8. ^ Tony Wheeler, 'Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands,' Lonely Planet, 2007, ISBN 1741791863, p.321
  9. ^ Jane's World Air Forces. Issue 25, 2007. Coulsdon: Jane's Information Group. pp. 134–135. 
  10. ^ Jane's World Air Forces. Issue 25, 2007. Coulsdon: Jane's Information Group. p. 135. 
  11. ^ IISS Military Balance 2007 p.271
  12. ^ Jane's World Air Forces. Issue 25, 2007. Pages 135–136.
  13. ^ Air Forces Monthly No.232, July 2007, p.27
  14. ^ Images of the DRC Armed Forces on skyscrapercity
  15. ^ Congolese military aviation OrBat

External links[edit]