The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Moscow have put countries importing defense equipment from Moscow in a spot. However, this crisis has opened a window of opportunity for India.
On March 4, Uganda inked an MoU with India for the maintenance and technical support of the Sukhoi SU-MK30 fighter jets it bought from Russia more than a decade ago.
India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which has a manufacturing license for Sukhoi SU-MK30 from Russia, is all set to service the Ugandan fighter jets.
The MoU was signed at the Indian High Commission in Kampala.
The deal’s financial details are unknown, but it has sparked debate among military analysts over the future of Uganda’s super aircraft, according to The Independent, a Ugandan daily.
Historic India-Uganda MoU signed at Kampala for Su-30 maintenance & technical support by HAL, India. First major defence agreement with Uganda following PM Modi's unveiling of '10 Principles of India-Africa Engagement' in Ugandan Parliament on 25 July 2018. pic.twitter.com/kP5jzPCYvz
— India in Uganda (@IndiainUganda) March 3, 2022
Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ronald Kakurungu, told the daily that the SU-MK30 jets were used in ‘Operation Shujaa’, a hunt for ADF fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in November 2021.
Uganda is known for its penchant for Russian military hardware, like India. The Sukhoi-30 is the main combat aircraft in the Indian Air Force, alongside MiG-21 Bison, MiG-29K, Jaguar, Mirage-200, and the newly-inducted Rafale.
— Aly-Khan Satchu (@alykhansatchu) April 11, 2012
Uganda was the first African government to purchase Russian Su-30 combat jets in 2011. While many believed the purchase was made to ensure Uganda’s oil resources were protected, the fighter jets have since been deployed in air raids against ADF rebel camps in the dense DRC jungles, where the UPDF would normally find it difficult to set foot, partially due to the terrain.
As a result, these long-range multi-role fighter bombers have done an excellent job of hitting targets that were outside the range of conventional jets, according to Nile Post.
Russia enjoys a sphere of influence over Africa which is the reason why about 17 African countries abstained from voting against the Russian invasion at the UN. According to a recent SIPRI report, Russia was the biggest exporter of weaponry to African countries between 2017 and 2021. It accounted for 44 percent of major defense imports of Africa.
Why Is India Helping Uganda?
In recent years, India has increased its cooperation with African nations. In 2018, Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Uganda in over 20 years.
The two countries had then agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in defense. Further, India becomes a favorable choice for Uganda to seek Su-30MK support as India’s fleet is dominated by the Su-30MKI, which it had inducted about two decades ago.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has heightened the urgency of upgrading India’s frontline fighter fleet, which is highly reliant on Russian supply, with officials asking for the Sukhoi 30 MKI combat aircraft to be upgraded as soon as possible with locally made systems, The Economic Times reported.
Officials in the Indian defense establishment have expressed concern about Russian industries’ capacity to maintain a consistent supply of parts and supplies for the fighter fleet, given the harsh sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Ukraine offensive.
Further, China’s influence on Uganda by virtue of its loans could be one possible reason behind India’s involvement in the repair and maintenance of the Su-30MK. In 2021, due to Uganda’s loan default, China had purportedly seized its Entebbe International Airport and other assets.
Therefore, it could be anticipated that better defense ties with Uganda on matters of security and defense would allow India to expand its influence and counterbalance China’s presence in the region.
The Sukhoi Su-30M is a two-seat multi-role fighter that is similar to the American F-15E. The Su-30MK is the aircraft’s export version. The fighter is a development of the Su-27 (Flanker) family of fighters, created by the Moscow-based Sukhoi Design Bureau and built by the Irkut Corporation.
For improved combat agility and maneuverability, the aircraft is outfitted with identical avionics and thrust vectoring as the Su-27. The aircraft is equipped with anti-surface missiles and has a stand-off range of 120 kilometres.
Su-30 M aircraft is armed with air-to-air missiles and a 30mm GSh-301 cannon with 150 rounds of ammo. The aircraft can carry one or two mission pods, such as a laser designator or an anti-radiation missile guidance system, and has 12 hardpoints for external payloads of up to 8,000kg. The Thales Damocles laser designator pod is installed on the Malaysian Su-30MKM.
Like the Su-30, the Su-30M can engage two airborne targets at the same time. The aircraft has been widely deployed by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.