Air Force of Zimbabwe loses more aircraft as sanctions bite

The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) has confirmed the loss of a Karakorum K-8 light attack aircraft which crashed and caught fire during a training exercise ahead of prestigious aerial displays which were to be performed at this year's edition of the Zimbabwe InternationalTrade Fair (ZITF).
Time Aerospace thumbnail

The business exhibition takes place annually at the end of April in

the country's second largest city of Bulawayo. The K-8 jet is one of

12 (six attack and six trainer) aircraft which were acquired from

Chinese aircraft manufacturer Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation

(HAIC) in 2006 to augment the AFZ fleet. It was decimated by

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebels and their Rwandan and Uganda

army allies who fought the Kinshasa government of the late President

Laurent Kabila and his Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)

allies to a stalemate during the costly 1998-2002 Congolese war.


Although the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) has never revealed its

actual DRC war losses to date, military sources say the war severely

depleted the force in both men and equipment, especially aircraft. The

crash comes less than a year after the loss of  a SIAI Marchetti

SF-260 trainer which crashed during a routine training exercise in

September last year following a botched take-off from the Prince

Charles Airport in Harare.


The accident was attributed to a mechanical fault and the plane was

written -off due to the ground impact and the resultant fire which

engulfed it. The SF-260 crash was the second in three years following

an aerial mishap involving a BAE Hawk trainer aircraft which developed

a technical fault  and almost plunged into a crowds which was

attending a funeral presided over by President Robert Mugabe at the

National Heroes Acre in Harare.


ZDF Public Relations Officer Brigadier-General John Mpande said both

pilots ejected and survived with serious injuries when the K-8 jet

crashed crashed into a populated area shortly after  take-off from

Thornhill Air Base, the country's main air-base located in the

Midlands city of Gweru on April 23.  He said the exact cause of the

accident was still being probed although there are preliminary

indications that it was caused by a mechanical fault.


“The Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Constantine

Chiwenga has commended the pilots for taking all precautionary

measures to save the lives of people on the ground. He has further

commended them for preventing potential damage to civilian property

during this  (plane) crash,” Brig-Gen Mupande said. He said a combined

team from the AFZ, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) and

the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is investigating the cause of the



They will be joined by air crash investigators from the Chinese

manufacturer HAIC. Although Brig-Gen Mpande declined to comment on the

extent of the damage, CAAZ investigative sources said the aircraft is

a complete write-off due to extensive fire damage and heavy impact on

hitting the ground. The crash has dealt the AFZ a huge blow amid

reports that most of the 12 K-8 light attack/trainer aircraft have

been grounded due to mechanical and technical faults which cannot be

repaired due to the lack of financial resources to acquire spare parts

and flight operations support equipment.


The K-8 single-engined advanced jet trainers and light attack aircraft

were intended to replace the aged fleet of three British-made BAE Hawk

trainers which were grounded immediately after the near-crash over the

National Heroes Acre. They were also meant to support a staged

phase-out of a fleet of old SF-260s trainers which has since outlived

them and remains in service as principal rookie trainer.  The

Zimbabwean government has over the years failed to provide budgets for

the acquisition of new aircraft and critical spares parts.


It blames this on the US-led Western arms embargo imposed on the

country at the height of the country's socio-political crisis in 2002.

Late last year, AFZ commander Air Marshall Perence Shiri said in a

rare interview that Western sanctions have degraded the force's aerial

defence capacity: "The western-imposed sanctions have not spared the

AFZ when it comes to the acquisition of new aircraft, back-up spares

for aircraft, radar,  aerial defence and support equipment. The

financial demands for new aircraft acquisitions, repairs and upgrades

have become too exorbitant as the country has to resort to sanctions

busting measures to acquire these,'' he said.


He said the inability to cquire new aircraft and spares has impacted

heavily on the AFZ's pilot and aircraft technician training

programmes, which have since been drastically altered to allow

recruits to complete the courses without most of the essential

training  equipment. Air Marshall Shiri said the force urgently needs

money to finance the acquisition of new aircraft, spare parts, repairs

and upgrades on some of its grounded aircraft which have not yet

outlived their lifespans.


This year, the government approved a $380milion defence budget which

defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi said will be used to acquire new

aircraft among other pressing needs. The grounded AFZ inventory

includes obsolete Soviet-era MiG 23 multi-role fighters, IIyushin and

Antonov heavy air-lifters. It also has a unspecified number of

Chinese-made Chengdu J-7 fighters and Shenyang F-5 fighter and trainer

jets. Its helicopter inventory includes US-made Bell 412s, French-made

Alouette IIIs, South African-made Pumas and Russian-made Mi-24V, Mi-35

and Mi-8 Hips in transport and attack variants.