Eritrea Air Force

The Asmara-based air force had only seven operational planes in 2012. The air force had 18 combat aircraft of unknown serviceability in 2005, including MiG–21s, MiG–23s, and MiG–29s. The air force was thought to have approximately 15 training, transport, and armed helicopters. Africa South of the Sahara in its 2004 report stated that, in August 2002 Eritrea's active armed forces included an army of about 170,000, a navy of 1,400 and an air force of about 800.

The Eritrean Air Force flies a number of MiG-29 fighters purchased from Russia. To maintain these front-line aircraft, the Isaias regime entered into a technical services contract with a Russian parastatal corporation. At least three Russian and a number of Belarusian aviation technicians lived in Asmara and serviced the MiGs. On 23 December 2010, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 1907, imposing an arms embargo and other sanctions on Eritrea. The resolution mandated, inter alia, that all UN member states shall "prevent the sale or supply to Eritrea by their nationals or from their territories... of technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance, related to the military activities or to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of these items..."

Before mid-January 2010 the Eritrean Air Force typically parked one Su-27 (reportedly of Ukrainian provenance) and two or three MiG-29s on the tarmac of the military wing of Asmara International Airport. Since early February observers have twice seen two Su-27s and no MiG-29s at the Asmara airport. Observers ability to visually survey the military wing of the Asmara airport is limited and irregular, but the MiGs' absence may indicate that they've been garaged due to limited maintenance. It was unclear who, if anyone, might be maintaining the Su-27s? Observers in Asmara speculate that the potential grounding of Eritrea's top air superiority fighters would at least temporarily crimp the Isaias regime's ability to wage a conventional war against Ethiopia or another foe.

The EPLFs Air Force was given two Harbin Y-12 twin-turboprop transport aircraft as a gift from the People's Republic of China to celebrate Eritrea's independence.

By May 2016 Zlín Avion Service s.r.o., a company based in Otrokovice, Czechia, supplied aircraft parts and training to the Eritrean air force, in violation of the arms embargo on Eritrea. By December 2017, the Eritrean air force possessed at least four Zlín model aircraft, which were used for training combat pilots. On 21 February 2017, in response to the official correspondence sent by the UN Monitoring Group, a representative of Zlín Avion denied that the company had ever entered into any contractual agreement with the Government of Eritrea or that its personnel had ever been present in the country.

Certificates bearing the Zlín Avion logo and Zlín Avion employee Blahomir Smetana’s signature attest that the company provided training on the operation of Zlín-143 and Zlín-242 aircraft to members of the Eritrean air force. In addition, eyewitnesses reported to the UN Monitoring Group that rotating groups of up to six Zlín Avion personnel were present in Asmara in late 2015 and in 2016 to provide parts and servicing to Zlín-143 and Zlín-242 aircraft belonging to the Eritrean air force.

Ttwo Eritrean Agusta Bell AB 412 EP helicopters were overhauled, between November 2015 and April 2017, by an Italian helicopter service company, Airgreen S.R.L., based in Turin, Italy. The two helicopters were shipped from Asmara to Turin on 2 November 2015 and were subsequently returned to Asmara following extensive servicing on 16 August 2016. Airgreen further provided spare parts and technical assistance for the helicopters beyond August 2016.

A Mi 171E helicopter was overhauled in April 2016 by Saint Petersburg Aviation Repair Company (SPARC), a company based in the Russian Federation. The helicopter was transported from Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation, to Asmara on 25 April. According to a defence analysis publication, the Eritrean air force was in possession of six Mi-17 helicopters used for logistical purposes by No. 3 Squadron. Following the overhaul, the helicopter was painted white. Satellite imagery of Asmara International Airport appears to show the helicopter parked on the military apron adjacent to the Eritrean air force base at the airport. Satellite imagery further appears to show the same helicopter at the Sawa Military Academy in the Gash Barka region on 9 September 2016.

2009 Snapshot

A total of 43 rotary or fixed-winged aircraft were visible in 2009 at the military area of Asmara International Airport. Some of these are wrecks probably left over from the Ethiopian period or more modern damaged aircraft kept for salvage. Non-hardened hanger space may house five or more additional aircraft. Roofless earthen revetments protect seven aircraft, some of which may not be operational. At least three hardened hangers with barrel-shaped concrete roofs and banked earth walls. Two of these flank the bottom of the 7's stem, at least one of which contains a modern fighter.

Type/DescriptionNumberApparent Status
L-90 Redigo6operational
5-bladed helicopter (Mi-24?)1possibly operational
4-bladed helicopter (Bell-412?)1operational
helicopter fuselage3junked
twin-engine turboprop transport1operational
Harbin Y-12 (?)1probably inoperable
small trainer/observer2at least one operational
medium-sized, single-engine turboprop1operational
F-5 (?)2one scrapped, one probably inoperable
old Aermacchi MB type (?)4scrapped
MiG-2163 scrapped, 3 probably inoperable
twin-boom transport1scrapped

There are nine former or current airports in Eritrea, based on unclassified imagery or personal observation. Four airports have long concrete runways capable of handling jet aircraft. Only Asmara airport had military aircraft visible in 2009; over half of the 43 aircraft visible there appear to be inoperable. Apparently operational first-line aircraft included five MiG-29s and one Su-27.

Location: 15-17-40N, 38-55-00E
Runways: concrete, shaped like the number 7
Note: Military aircraft cluster around the 6,000' runway at the top of the 7, while general aviation aircraft use the 11,000' runway comprising the stem of the 7.

Location: 13-04-17N, 42-38-43E
Runway: concrete, 11,400'

Dahlak Kebir Island
Location: 15-45-26N, 39-58-14E
Runway: gravel, 9,500'
Note: This airstrip was supposedly built during the Ethiopian period, possibly to service Soviet submarines at a semi-circular bay just NE of the airstrip. Qatari interests are surfacing and lengthening the runway to cater to a Qatari luxury resort being built on the island.

Location: 15-01-20N, 39-02-22E
Runway: crumbling asphalt, 9,300'
Note: Built as an Italian air force base for the invasion of Ethiopia, during WWII Douglas Aircraft Company established the Gura Air Depot there to repair and modify allied aircraft. After WWII an annex of the USG's Kagnew Station was established 800 yards SE of the runway. Today the airport is not used; livestock and utility lines and poles cross it. Eritrean Defense Forces occupy the former Kagnew annex.

Location: 15-47-06N, 38-25-30E
Runway: dirt, 2,700'
Note: Probably not usable.

Location: 15-40-11N, 39-22-14E
Runway: concrete, 11,700'
Note: Although called "Massawa International Airport," it has no scheduled civilian flights. Oddly, a life-sized four-engine airliner appears to be painted on the tarmac in front of the terminal. A decoy?

Location: 16-40-25N, 38-30-20E
Runway: gravel, 6,000'
Note: Site of an epic Eritrean victory in the 30-year war for independence, cadre of the PFDJ (the ruling party) now attend patriotic training sessions at Nakfa.

Location: 15-42-00N, 36-58-43E
Runway: concrete, 10,400'
Note: Sawa camp includes training facilities for all Eritrean 12th graders, who must attend a year of military and academic training there to graduate from high school. Immediately after graduation almost all are conscripted into open-ended National Service. Eritrean VIPs normally attend the graduation. Nevsun, the Canadian mining company, will probably use the Sawa airport to fly gold from its Bisha mine (38 miles ESE of Sawa) to Switzerland beginning in 2010.

Location: 15-06-13N, 36-40-56E
Runway: gravel, 7,400'

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