Aviation. MTC Between Russia And Algeria

Algerian Air Force has a pressing need for upgrading its aircraft in service. After almost a fifteen-years embargo (1990–2005) Algerian AF has started an extensive modernization program. This process was initiated after an official visit of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to Algeria in 2007 and conversion of Algerian debt to the Russian Federation into a weapons supply contract.

After this visit Algeria placed an order for two squadrons of SU-30 MKI (A) jet fighters, one squadron of Yak-130 combat aircraft and 28 MIG-29 CMT jet fighters under a 7 billion USD contract signed between Algeria and Moscow. The emphasis was also laid on air defense, which involved several regiments of S-300PMU-2 ADMS and several dozens of Pantsyr-S1 ADMGS. This contract has become a new turn in military and technical co-operation between the two countries and revived trust to such an extent that Algeria has made a decision to allocate a substantial part of its defense budget to purchase Russian equipment.

This decision has been beneficial to France as well, this country managed to sell a great amount of optical/electronic and high-precision equipment under Russian contracts for weapons supply to Algeria. This step has speeded up the construction of factories and the setting up of branch offices of Safran and Thalès Groups in Russia. The deal with rejected MiG-29SMT delivered from a factory in Lukhovitsy and Nizhny Novgorod factory “Sokol” and the contract termination that followed later nevertheless has had no influence on the relationship between the two countries despite the apparent error made by the Russian party.

Since 2011 due to an increase in oil prices Algeria boosted up its revenues in US dollars fourfold, created a big financial reserve and could repay all its external debt. This situation had a positive effect on the arms programs and defense budget, which increased from 5 billion USD (on average) in a period from 2000 to 2010 up to 10 billion USD (on average) within a time interval from 2012 to 2019. The country has managed to strengthen its positions as one of the key importers of Russian weapons, first of all in the field of military aviation, and has become the third largest buyer of Russian weapons between 2010 and 2019, besides it acquired the leading positions following the results of the year 2018.

Nevertheless, it seems that for a number of reasons the Algerian Air Force still encounter difficulties in implementing its modernization program, first of all ones related to preparation and training of aviation specialists. Since 2010 it was decided to give up on aviation schools in favor of specialized fighter jet, transport aviation and helicopter academies. Establishing these training institutions greatly delayed the implementation of the modernization program owing to the need to select aviation equipment for training as well as because these training institutions had to be established at the same time. Thus, hundreds of western helicopters AgustaWestland (at present – Leonardo) were purchased for the helicopter academy. Appropriate trainer aircraft compatible with training literature and training aids of the Soviet and Russian manufacture have been purchased for the Navy and AF. A lot of time was lost because of this.

Yak-130 turned out to be an engineering failure for the jet fighter academy due to some problems related to the aircraft ill-considered design and its engine, as a result it could not be put in service on time. The transport academy had problems with equipment that was heavily used in normal conditions for transport airlifts. This delayed the opening of the academy despite the fact that simulators were handed over and a modern airbase was constructed.

The air transportation fleet through 2000 to 2018 had a great number of accidents and lost five aircraft and this happened in conditions when no replacement could be found in the market. As a result, Algeria has chosen to go with the IL-76MD-90A military transport aircraft, however, the first machines will be delivered only by 2022 or even later. The same relates to the C-130J aircraft, the negotiations on which lasted for about 10 years due to the sanctions imposed by the USA on export supplies to Algeria. Now the country has to wait for 2022 and then it can hope to get the six aircraft on order.

While the neighboring country and competitor – Morocco – has purchased several squadrons of F-16 jet fighters, Algerian Air Force has spent a lot of time on choosing its main jet fighter. This delay was possible to compensate by ordering two batches of extra 14 SU-30, but this did not help make the final choice. For a long time along with the SU-32 front-line bomber the SU-35 has been offered, especially after starting to use these two types of aircraft in the Syrian conflict, however due to some reasons the decision to purchase these aircraft has not been made yet. Two important aspects were given special focus in relation to the SU-32 in Algerian specification: it should be a two-seater aircraft equipped with a radar with APAA (active phased array antenna) with a great number of changeable modules.

The Russian industry needed time to answer Algeria’s requests. Although, the need to change the SU-24M front-line bomber has become increasingly more and more urgent, and given the excellent results demonstrated by the SU-34 in Syria, nevertheless Algeria found the export version of SU-32 front-line bomber to be lagging technologically. The time spent on negotiations resulted in an unprecedented problem for the Algerian army: it was the US threat to impose CAATSA sanctions (US Public Law “On Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act”) on Algeria as the principal buyer of Russian arms and Russia’s friend. Pressure from the USA further delayed Algeria’s decision making related to the available options of jet fighters and bombers. The Americans have gone so far that offered Algeria to purchase American aircraft or to order Chinese aircraft.

What was even worse, that on February 22, 2019 millions of Algerians took to the streets to put an end to the 20-year rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. And all this taking place in a situation of emerging economic crisis, high inflation rate and uncertainty about the country’s financial future. Thus, 2018 was a year of reduced imports, although the army still seemed to avoid cutting down on its expenditures. But with Bouteflika’s fall, Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah had to lead the country that was suffering from financial difficulties and was amid a serious political crisis. This situation may have severe consequences for the aviation modernization program.

International pressure, internal political tension, financial crisis and the lack of priorities in procurement sector will most likely further delay the implementation of Algerian Air Force modernization program. To save time, some urgent measures have been taken including the upgrade of 40 SU-24 front-line bombers to M2 class with navigation target acquisition system SVP-24 installed or a possible order of the MIG-29M/M2 to replace the MIG-29C, which will be taken out of service by 2020.

Akram Khareff

©New defence order. Strategy  №1 (60) 2020

Our partners