September 20, 2004
The two year old Russian contract to deliver twelve MiG-29 fighters to Sudan is being completed, with the aircraft being delivered ahead of schedule. The deal, which cost Sudan about $150 million, includes training for pilots and maintenance personnel. However, it appears that Russian technicians, and perhaps pilots as well, will be provided in the short term. The MiG-29 is a modern warplane, on a par with the U.S. F-16. Its a complex beast, as are the missiles that are normally used on it. To be effective, the MiG-29 requires well trained pilots and maintenance crews. Sudan received the interceptor version of the MiG-29, and lacks the electronics that enable it to hit ground targets. However, theres nothing to prevent Sudan from having its MiG-29s modified to drop bombs. There have already been reports from Darfur of civilians being bombed by what appear to be fighters. These may have been some of Sudans older MiG fighters, but the descriptions from eyewitnesses seemed to indicate the bombers may have been MiG-29s. Sudan says it needs the MiG-29s for defense against Egypts much larger force of over a hundred F-16s. A dozen MiG-29s would not last long against an Egyptian attack. If Sudan wanted efficient ground attack aircraft, it would have been better off buying Russian Su-25s.
Russia is now negotiating to sell Sudan another twelve MiG-29s. It is believed that these arms deals include Russian diplomatic cooperation in preventing the UN from imposing sanctions on Sudan because of atrocities the Sudanese government is inflicting on its own people in Darfur. Thus this sale of MiG-29s is seen more a purchase of diplomatic assistance, than one of air defense against the Egyptian air force.