Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 14 January 2007

SPLA needs to establish its own air force

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By Maker Costa

Jan 13, 2007 — It takes no military expert but a sheer common sense to recognize the importance of an air force component in any conventional army. In that context, some of us, who have no military background at all, but out of intuition, could also see and help by presenting proposals and bold suggestions such as the establishment of an army branch. The idea of creating an air force in the SPLA is not new itself; it has been the dream of the SPLA and its supporters to have an air force component capable of carrying out combat, transportation, and reconnaissance operations. But one thing prevented the SPLA from acquiring military planes and war jets; that was, we were told, the guerrilla status of the SPLA then. Now, however, the CPA and consequently the National Constitution has recognized the SPLA as one of the three armies which will prevail during the interim period. So, the SPLA can professionalize its existing forces by creating the known conventional military branches. In fact, our late leader Dr. John Garang in Abyei, and in his tour then to explain the CPA to the masses, outlined what the professionalization of the SPLA means. Dr. Garang, who was speaking in Dinka language mixed with some broken Arabic, had this to say:

“There will be three armies in the Sudan, the SAF, the SPLA, and the JIUs. We will make sure that our army is the most capable and has the military superiority; this means we will have our own corps of engineers, artillery, infantry, air force, and even a navy division … we are now part of the GoNU and we are the GoSS.” (This quote is translated and paraphrased)

As a matter of fact, the CPA has no provision that would prevent the SPLA from professionalization of its existing troops, but it would only prevent expansion. In addition, the CPA gives the SPLA the right to be trained and be armed by the IGAD partners which includes the United States. Equally, the SPLA is one of the two original armies which now make up the National Army; hence, whatever is in the SAF can also be in the SPLA without violating the CPA provision that requires the preservation and downsizing of the troops levels as they stood in January 9, 2005.

Why establish an air force in the SPLA?

It is worth noting that if there was one thing that had hindered the hoped-for total liberation of the whole Sudan by the SPLA, then it was/is definitely the lack of an air force division. The SAF had a clear aerial dominance over the SPLA which gave it the following advantages during the war:

Aerial reconnaissance: the Russian Antinovs that were used by the SAF enabled it to watch the movements of the SPLA troops. In fact, the primary mission of the Antinovs was not bombardment, but aerial reconnaissance. The beliefs such as the one that alleges that France provided the SAF with satellite maps of the SPLA positions during the bad days of the early 1990s was simply a myth; instead, the Antinov is capable of monitoring the movements of troops from its high altitude position and can, therefore, direct the ground forces. In many cases, the SAF were able to avoid SPLA ambushes by following the path which the Antinov showed them.
Transportation: the only way in the SAF did maintain Juba was through aerial transportation, without which, Juba could have fallen easily into the hands of the SPLA. So, transportation was another advantage which the SAF had and which could have been prevented if as well, the SPLA had its own air force.
Combat and aerial bombardment: the SAF had all along bombarded and destroyed important facilities in the SPLA controlled areas, mass-killed soldiers or civilians, destroyed weapons, ammunitions, and tanks, etc., the latest and deadliest of all were the lethal gunships that were used by the SAF to secure oil areas around Bantiu. Therefore, an air force component is simply indispensable if we intend to win any potential war in the near future.

Having enumerated few advantages out of many, many others which the SAF have had, all along, over the SPLA and which the suggested air force component would provide to the SPLA, we can thus conclude that the establishment of such a force is a priority even if that means an increase in the SPLA budget which is already skyrocketing.

But, do we have the necessary budget for military planes such as helicopters, C-130s, and war jets?

The answer is of course a big YES! The GoSS is the only government in the world besides the government of North Korea that allocates 40% of its budget to its army. In addition, we have the support of the IGAD partners who could even provide us with war machines without having to pay anything, given their pledges then that they will arm and train the SPLA. Therefore, all we need now is follow up and initiative and a giant air force will come to existence in the SPLA.

How will the SPLA establish such a force?

Simple, the SPLA do not need permission from anybody; instead, this process is an internal arrangement within the SPLA. The SPLA would start by appointing an air force commander like any other commander of a branch in the SPLA and select some elite SPLA soldiers, who could make it into pilots and other specialties of the air force, and then send some of these soldiers to go and learn piloting and aeronautical engineering in the IGAD partners countries or wherever country that would be suitable. In addition, the SPLA would purchase or let the IGAD partners provide some helicopters for its newly established air force as a starting point, and then start to look for some military aerial carries like the C-130s and after that the SPLA can then acquires some war jets .Of course, this will not happen overnight but, at least, we would have an air force in the making which could be ready within few years to come, if not next year.

By acquiring an air force component, the SPLA will be fit the most for the challenges facing the implementation of the CPA; in addition, it will be ready for the eventualities that would ensued from the results of referendum. This means that anyone whose ambition puts in a collision course with the SPLA will be forced to swallow a big chunk of a very humble pie.

* The author is based in New York. He can be reached at makercosta@yahoo.com



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