The rise and rise of Tanzania's Air Force

Alan Warnes spotlights the origins of the Tanzanian Air Force Command and highlights an interesting mix of aircraft being flown.

Tanzania, situated on the Indian Ocean coast, shares borders with an impressive eight countries – Kenya and Uganda to the north; Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to the west; and Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to the south.
At just over 50 years old, it is a relatively young country, having been formed from Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which had respectively gained independence on December 9, 1961, and December 9, 1963.
The two countries officially joined together as the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar on April 26, 1964, subsequently becoming the United Republic of Tanzania on October 29, 1964.
The country’s air force, originally known as the Jeshi Wananchi la Tanzania (JWTZ) and referred to as the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force Air Wing (TPDF-AW), is now known as Tanzanian Air Force Command (TAFC), but remains under the control of the JWTZ.
It is unclear exactly when the name change took place but it is believed to have been in early 2014 and, by the following year, its aircraft were appearing with TAFC, rather than JWTZ, titles.
The origins of the air force go back to 1964, when an offer from West Germany to help establish a military air transport unit was accepted and training began.
Piaggio FWP149D trainers, plus Dornier 28 and Nord 2501D Noratlas transports, were supplied by West Germany to form the embryonic JWTZ. But political fall-out between the two countries during the following year quickly stopped further assistance.
Canadian support then followed but, by the early 1970s, Russian and Chinese influence had become increasingly the norm, with acquisition of aircraft from the West being declined. As a result, by the 1980s most of the JWTZ fleet, with a few exceptions, was of Soviet design and Chinese origin.
Today, the Chinese legacy lives on and almost all of the current types originate from there, with a couple of exceptions.
The air force’s functions are officially described as providing air protection to key national, political and economic areas; providing air defence for major military centres and military gatherings; providing support to domestic military forces; providing support to civilian authorities, particularly at times of national disaster; escorting military leaders and collecting security information; promoting military relations with other countries through joint exercises; and participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
There are currently three main air bases in use by the TAFC. These comprise Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Ngerengere.
The air force headquarters and primary base is at Dar es Salaam/Mwalimu JK Nyerere International Airport, on the Indian Ocean coast. This base houses a fighter squadron equipped with F-7TG Airguard and FT-7TG fighters; a training squadron with K-8 Karakoram jet trainers and possibly still Shenyang FT-5s; a transport squadron with Y-12 II Turbo Pandas and Shaanxi Y-8F-200s; a helicopter squadron with Eurocopter H155s; and finally, a light observation squadron with Seabird SB7L-360 Seeker 2s.
Mwanza, located close to the shore of Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania, was previously the main fighter base. However, the only known residents now are a detachment of F-7TGs and FT-7TGs from Dar es Salaam.
The final major base is Ngerengere, which houses a training unit operating Hongdu (formerly Nanchang) PT-6 piston-engine trainers. This base, located 75 miles (120km) west of Dar es Salaam, was originally built around 1970 with assistance from the Chinese Government. Most recently, China funded a $68.5 million reconstruction of the base, which began in July 2013.
Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, formally inaugurated the new facilities at Ngerengere on March 6, 2017, when the renovation was completed. During the ceremony, Tanzania’s Chief of Defence Forces, Venance Mabeyo, said that work had included extending the runway to enable large military and commercial aircraft, up to Boeing 777 size, to land and take-off from the base.
Representing the Chinese at the opening was the Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania, Lu Youqing, who said the upgrade further cemented the close relationship between the two countries.
It is not yet clear whether this expansion means that further aircraft assets will now operate from the base, although this seems likely in view of the new investment that has taken place.
As already mentioned, the majority of the current inventory is of Chinese origin. The latest acquisitions have been a batch of Chengdu F-7TG Airguard fighters, along with two-seat Guizhou FT-7TGs, these being local designations for the J-7G and J-7N, respectively.
The fleet comprises 12 F-7TGs and a pair of FT-7TGs, ordered in 2009. Deliveries began in 2011, with at least four confirmed operational by November of that year after being shipped from China in crates and then re-assembled and test flown before entering service. The remainder are thought to have followed soon afterwards.
The type is operated from Dar es Salaam and Mwanza.
One known attrition loss occurred on February 27, 2015, when a F-7TG had a bird strike on take-off from Mwanza. The pilot ejected successfully, sustaining only minor injuries, but the aircraft was a total loss.
Tanzania had for decades also operated the Shenyang F-6A and F-6C, along with the two-seat FT-6, until retiring the F-6As in 2010, followed by the F-6Cs and FT-6s in 2011. Google Earth imagery from March 2017 shows that, at that time, 21 F-6/FT-6s were still in open storage at Ngerengere, where they had previously been based.
An initial pair of Hongdu K-8 Karakoram jet trainers were delivered to Tanzania in 2009, with a further four joining them since. These are based at Dar es Salaam and primarily used in the training role, as evidenced by their overall bright yellow colour scheme. However, they do also have a light attack capability.
One of the K-8s, serial number JW9129, was involved in an accident on October 23, 2012, when control was lost on take-off; it veered off the runway and collided with a shipping container. Both crew members ejected, but one of them was killed when his parachute failed to deploy and he fell on to the tarmac. The nose sustained impact damage but the aircraft is believed to have since been repaired and returned to service.
Another K-8 crashed into the sea off Mbudya Island during a training flight on October 1, 2015. Despite an extensive search, after two weeks the two crew members could still not be found and were assumed dead.
The status of TAFC’s few remaining Shenyang FT-5s is uncertain. Five of the type had been in Tanzanian service since 1973, but two were lost in accidents. The most recent crash was on June 28, 2010, when JW-9119 crashed on a highway after take-off from Ngerengere, killing both crew members.
It is believed the surviving three aircraft were finally retired at some point after delivery of the new K-8s, but this is unconfirmed.
Transport assets are limited to two Y-12 II Turbo Pandas and two Y8F-200s.
The two Y-12s entered service in September 1994, while both of the Y-8Fs were delivered on November 3, 2003. All four are thought to remain operational, with one of them participating in Exercise Blue Kunene in Namibia during early September.
Three Antonov An-28s had also been in service, but all three were offered for sale in September 2015, by which time they had already been in storage for several years. One was located at Dar es Salaam, another at Dodoma and the third at Mwanza.
A number of Cessna twins have previously been operated, but most were retired many years ago. The only one in recent use had been a Cessna 402, which had also been withdrawn from use and placed in storage at Dar es Salaam by around 2015.
The most recent rotary-wing asset to be added to the TAFC is the Airbus Helicopters H155 (EC155B1), the latest variant of the Dauphin family.
At least two have been acquired and these entered service in or around 2015 with the helicopter unit at Dar es Salaam. It is unclear whether these are new or second-hand examples, but it is thought they are the only operational helicopters remaining in the TAFC inventory.
Four Agusta Bell 205A-1s and four AB412EPs had also been in service from 1977 and 2005, respectively, of which one of the former and three of the latter were lost in accidents. The survivors were all withdrawn from use in 2015 after the H155s entered service.
Around 10 or more Nanchang (now Hongdu) PT-6 piston-engine trainers were delivered from China, probably during the 1970s. These were thought to have been long retired but, by 2010, it was apparent that the type was still very much in service and they appear to have been refurbished for continued service. They remain operational with the training squadron at Ngerengere.
One of the more unusual acquisitions by the TAFC has been the Seabird 7L-360 Seeker 2, an Australian-designed light observation aircraft, which was also manufactured in Jordan.
The Tanzanian aircraft are believed to have come from the Seabird Aviation Jordan production line and had been delivered by mid-2013, although may have been in service earlier than this.
At least four are thought to have been acquired for operation with the light observation squadron at Dar es Salaam in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role. Rather oddly, the first indication that they were being operated by the TAFC was when a music video was released on the internet on March 27, 2014, using one of them as a backdrop.
The aircraft carried serial JW-9704, suggesting that this was the fourth aircraft, as Tanzanian serials normally begin with JW-xx01 for each type. It was also apparent from the video that it is fitted with a Wescam MX-10 electro-optical/infra-red sensor turret.
Among its recent partnerships with overseas countries, the TPDF signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in February 2015, under which Pakistan undertook to train TAFC personnel on operations, equipment maintenance, training, security and the military application of information and communication technology. The MoU was also expected to lead on to bilateral exchanges and possible later purchase of Pakistani equipment, although there has been no evidence of any progress with the latter, probably due to a lack of funds.
China also continues to support Tanzania and, during a visit to Beijing on April 24, 2017, TAFC commander, Major General William Ingram, met with his Chinese PLAAF counterpart, General Ma Xiaotian. The Chinese general reiterated his country’s continued support for further developing the already long-term relations with the TAFC, including more exchange and cooperation in various fields.
With a limited budget for new aircraft purchases, Tanzania’s air force has, since its inception, relied heavily on assistance from other countries, and this trend looks set to continue. With hard facts difficult to come by from official sources, it is currently unclear whether any new aircraft acquisitions are planned in the near future.
For VIP transportation of the president and other high-ranking officials, the Tanzanian Government operates a small fleet of aircraft based at the international airport in Dar es Salam. These comprise a BAe146-200, Fokker 50, Fokker F28 Fellowship Srs 3000, Gulfstream G550 and Piper PA-31-325 Navajo C/R.
The F28 has been operated since being delivered new in the 1970s, while the Navajo was acquired in 1980. The Fokker 50 joined the fleet in April 1992 and the G550 followed in September 2004. The latest addition is the BAe146, purchased second-hand and transferred to Tanzania on October 31, 2012.
Dar es Salaam is also the base for the Tanzanian Police Air Wing. Currently, this comprises just two aircraft, a Cessna U206 Stationair and Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II helicopter.
The certificate of airworthiness of a Bell 412EP previously operated expired in February 2016 and it is assumed it is no longer operational.
A Robinson R44 Raven II, built in 2013 and acquired second-hand in Kenya, was donated to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism for anti-poaching operations and entered service in September 2014. It was flown by Police Air Wing crew but, after only a matter of weeks, it was lost in a crash on November 29, 2014, killing all four on board, including three police officers.