Khartoum, Sudan — The Republic of Sudan is set to receive its first six advanced interceptor attack/trainer aircraft from the People’s Republic of China in an effort to modernized the Sudanese Air Forces aging fleet of Chinese made light attack Shenyang J-5 fighter jets that saw extensive use in the war in Dafur.
The first six of the what is known as the FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle fighter/ trainer aircraft decked out in the telltale blocky desert camouflage pattern of the Sudanese Air Force rolled off the assembly line and into packaging for delivery to Sudan at China’s state-owned Guizhou Aircraft Industries Corporation (GAIC) in the city of Anshun in the southwest province of Guizhou earlier this month.
The FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle is based on China’s Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Guizhou JL-9 light attack fighter jet and is China’s first fighter aircraft designated solely for export to foreign markets. Sudan was all too excited to order these variants and placed an order for its first six in late 2015. So far Sudan is the first and only country that is slotted for delivery of this aircraft variant. Officially the FTC-2000 is being marketed as a training fighter which has a dual seat configuration to accommodate the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force air crew and trainers that will more than likely accompany Sudan’s latest acquisition of Chinese weapons of war, putting even more Chinese military hardware and advisors on Sudanese soil.
However these FTC-2000 fighters are not just for joy-riding as they come fully equipped with rocket pods and missile racks designed specifically for engaging ground targets. Something that the Sudanese government thinks they desperately need as border disputes along the Upper Nile region of South Sudan have begun to heat up. The very same location of China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) which has several large oil drilling operations located in which China most assuredly has vested interest in protecting.
The Sudanese Air Force attack aircraft inventory is a hodge-podge of Chinese and former Soviet-bloc fighter jets such as the Russian made Mikoyan MiG-29 that Sudan acquired from Moscow in 2004 after the Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, sent a written request to Russian President, Vladimir Putin, desperately requesting modern weaponry and Russian military instructors to conduct training on the modern weapon systems for his Sudanese military to gain the upper hand on the bloody rebellion in the Darfur.
The multi-role advanced Russian fighter jets and saw extensive use in the war in Darfur in 2008 where the MiG-29’s were used for bombing runs on villages and towns occupied by the Sudanese rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that were mounting an offensive on the capital city of Khartoum. Rumors that the advanced MiG-29’s were actually being flown by former Russian fighter pilots were confirmed in May 2008 when JEM reported that they had shot down a MiG-29 aircraft with a Russian-made DShKM 12.7 heavy caliber machine gun.
The pilot of the Mig-29 ejected yet it was reported that the parachute didn’t open and he plummeted to his death. Afterwards the JEM rebels found what was left of the body and reported that it looked like a caucasian man in a flight suit near the aircraft’s ejection seat. Sudan and the Russian Ministry of Defense vehemently denied these accusations until a Russian radio station in an interview with a Russian contractor in Khartoum confirmed that, “a flight instructor flying a MIG-29 was shot down from a large-caliber machine-gun during this fighting [Darfur rebel attack].”
Most of Sudan’s fleet of MiG-29’s are sitting in a somewhat “mothballed” state as the lack qualified pilots, trainers, and above all, spare parts have grounded most of them indefinitely, leaving an air superiority gap in the Sudanese battle plans. China is rapidly attempting to remedy the situation with a large influx of spare parts and armaments for the older Chinese built Shenyanh J-5’s and Chengdu J-7 interceptor jets as well as the delivery of the new FTC-2000 fighters.
The Chinese FTC-2000 Mountain Eagles were designed specifically as a two-seater which may indicate that Chinese pilots along with their Sudanese Air Force counter-parts, if needed, will be able to conduct real-world trainer/trainee air-to-ground strikes against rebel targets along the southern Sudanese borders with a high probability of success and minimal loss of the advanced airframe; possibly in order to avoid the whole lost Russian pilot fiasco from 2008.
China and its oil industry are heavily invested in the Upper Nile and Southern Kordofan regions where the largest of the Chinese owned oil reserves are located. With 3,000 Chinese peace-keeping troops along with the newly deployed PLA helicopter unit already on the ground protecting these regions of Chinese investment, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to assume that these new lightweight, highly maneuverable fighter jets have an additional tasking of providing close air protection of Chinese oil operations in the Sudan.
Feature image courtesy of: Xinhua