Wednesday July 13 2011

New Russian-built jet fighters arrive

By Tabu Butagira & Martin Ssebuyira


The Shukoi Su-30 fighter jets that government bought from Russia at $740 million (Shs1.8 trillion) have arrived in the country, military sources confirmed last night.

UPDF Airforce yesterday used one of the fighter planes to conduct test flights over Entebbe, sparking panic among residents with the din of the roaring engines.

People residing in or around Entebbe town said the deafening noise took them unawares and disrupted peaceful living. Lugonjo, Katabi, Kitooro, and Kiwafu were the most affected areas. “I am a poultry farmer and earn my living by rearing layers. The jets being tested on Sunday and Monday caused a setback in the way the birds lay their eggs,” said Ms Rose Namagara, a resident. Airforce Spokesman, Capt. Tabaro Kiconco, however, said the test flights are “normal and people should not get scared whenever we fly our aircrafts”.

He said: “Areas in close proximity of military installations or airbases the world over are synonymous with such noise.”
Defence officials declined to state when the jets were shipped into the country on grounds movement of military equipment and personnel is confidential information “since it has a security element.”

The acquisition, at Shs1.8 trillion, of the military jets on the backdrop of soaring inflation stirred public anger with critics questioning the cost, timing and necessity - especially that Uganda is not known to be on the edge of war with any country. Mr Emmanuel Mutebile, the central bank governor, threw the Ugandan shilling into its worst volatility in 17 years, when he told UK’s leading business newspaper, the Financial Times, that President Museveni ignored technical advice to raid the country’s meagre foreign exchange reserves to buy the jets.

The reserves that could last at least six months consequently diminished to a probable four months, he said. The statements triggered commotion in the local financial market, plunging the Ugandan shilling, which is now showing signs of recovery, to trade at 2, 700 to a US dollar.

The Russian-built Shukoi SU-30 jet fighter, which the UPDF is understood to have acquired, is a twin-engine, multi-purpose aircraft for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions, according information gleaned from the Internet. It can undertake combat missions within 3, 000 kilometre range, affording the UPDF the legroom to strike at distant targets with precision and efficiency.

Speaking about the jet fighters in May, the Chief of Defence Forces said the investment would relieve the army for at least 25 years and the UPDF is “late in acquiring the aircrafts.” “There is nothing to celebrate [in the acquisition],” Gen. Aronda Nyakairima told journalists then at his Mbuya office. He said Uganda had no country on its mind while buying the sophisticated jets that some analyst predict could spark arms race in the region.