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Sudan lacked a reliable source of military matériel as of mid-1991, even though the country faced a severe shortage of equipment and of support items. Most of its weaponry of Soviet design was more than twenty years old and could be kept operational only with the limited help provided by Libya and China. As a result, most of the Soviet tanks, artillery, missiles, and aircraft were not in serviceable condition. Western suppliers were unwilling to provide arms for use against the southern insurgents. Military credits previously available from Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Persian Gulf had been cut off as a reaction to Sudan's continued support of Iraq, following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Egypt, normally an important source of both equipment and training, had severely curtailed its cooperation with the Bashir government. Some assistance, particularly in the form of munitions, had been provided by Iraq, but this help had ended in August 1990. Although Libya and China continued to provide some military items, the supply from China was limited by the strict financial terms imposed by the Beijing authorities.

Except for a production line for small caliber ammunition, Sudan has never had an arms industry. Consequently, foreign sources for weapons, equipment, ammunition, and technical training have been indispensable. After independence British advisers helped train the Sudanese army and air force, and British equipment predominated in the ground forces. Relations between the government in Khartoum and London were periodically strained, however, and after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, diplomatic and military ties were severed. Military links with the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) were also broken for a time.

The breach with the Western nations was followed by a period of close military cooperation with the Soviet Union between 1968 and 1971. Sudan benefited from the Soviet Union's first significant military assistance program in a sub-Saharan Africa country. By 1970 it was estimated that there were 2,000 Soviet and East European technical advisers in the country. About 350 Sudanese received training in the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Soviet assistance corresponded with a dramatic growth in the Sudanese armed forces from 18,000 in 1966 to nearly 50,000 by 1972. The bulk of the equipment used by the ground and air forces throughout the 1970s and until the early 1980s was of Soviet origin, including tanks, artillery, and MiG combat aircraft.

Vulnerabilities resulting from overreliance on one arms supplier became obvious when relations with the Soviet Union cooled considerably following the coup attempt against Nimeiri in 1971. Soviet and East European military advisers were expelled from Sudan for a year. After relations were repaired, previously arranged deliveries of tanks were completed and a new purchase of combat aircraft was negotiated. Military agreements with the Soviet Union remained in force until 1977, but Sudan began to pursue a policy of diversifying its arms sources. When Moscow promised extensive military aid to the revolutionary regime in neighboring Ethiopia, the Sudanese government expelled all ninety Soviet military advisers and ordered the military section of the Soviet embassy in Khartoum closed.

After its relations with the Soviet Union chilled again, Sudan turned to China, which supplied the SPAF initially with light weapons and later delivered fighter aircraft and light tanks. As of the mid-1980s, about fifty Chinese advisers provided maintenance support for tanks and aircraft, including Soviet equipment previously supplied, and trained Sudanese pilots and aircraft mechanics.

Military cooperation with Britain resumed in 1973, although it was confined mainly to training and instruction at the Military College and the armored, infantry, and signals schools. Yugoslavia assisted in founding the Sudanese navy; for more than a decade it provided all of the vessels and the bulk of officer and technical training. The Yugoslav naval support program was not renewed in 1972, however, because of frustrations the Yugoslavs encountered in accomplishing their mission. In 1989 four more river craft were acquired from Yugoslavia, and subsequently a Yugoslav delegation was reported to have visited Khartoum to discuss a revival of training assistance.

The purchase of weapons from Western countries was financed largely by oil-rich Arab states that were pleased to see Soviet influence in Sudan ended. Arab financial assistance, especially from Saudi Arabia, was instrumental in the purchase in 1977 of six C-130 Hercules transport aircraft from the United States, estimated to cost US$74 million, and two Buffalo transports from Canada. Saudi assistance was also credited for Sudan's acquisition of ten light helicopters and as many as 4,000 vehicles from West Germany. In addition, Saudi Arabia in 1980 supplied the SPAF with seventy used American-built M-41 and M-47 tanks from its reserve inventory.

Until 1985 Sudan maintained its closest military ties with Egypt. Under a twenty-five-year defense agreement signed in 1976, the two countries established a joint defense council, a joint general staff organization, and a permanent military committee to implement decisions of the joint council and the staff organization. Since 1986 Egypt has provided Egyptian-manufactured Swingfire antitank missiles, Walid armored personnel carriers, ammunition, and other equipment to Sudan. Although Sadiq al Mahdi declared his intention to abrogate the defense pact in order to meet a key SPLA condition for peace, Bashir reaffirmed the pact after his takeover in 1989. The internal repressions of the new government and Sudan's refusal to condemn the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, however, produced discord between the two nations, and Egypt rejected appeals from Sudanese leaders for additional military aid.

Until 1976 United States military aid to Sudan was negligible, consisting primarily of training in the United States for a small number of Sudanese officers. Soon after officially agreeing in November 1976 to provide Sudan with selected arms, the United States sold Sudan transport aircraft financed by Saudi Arabia, followed several years later by F-5 combat airplanes. Believing that Sudan was threatened by neighboring Ethiopian and Libyan forces heavily armed by the Soviet Union, Washington adopted a growing role in Sudan's security. Between fiscal year ( FY--see Glossary) 1979 and FY 1982, military sales credits rose from US$5 million to US$100 million. Subsequent aid was extended on a grant basis. In addition to aircraft, United States aid consisted of APCs, M-60 tanks, artillery, and Commando armored cars. United States grant aid reached a peak of US$101 million in FY 1982; at the time, this constituted two-thirds of all United States military assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. Between the inception of the program in 1976 and its virtual termination in 1986, military grants and sales credits to Sudan totaled US$154 million and US$161 million, respectively. Sudan granted the United States naval port facilities at Port Sudan and agreed to some airport prepositioning rights for military equipment for contingent use by the United States Central Command. Sudanese and United States forces participated in joint maneuvers designated Operation Bright Star in 1981 and 1983.

When civil war again erupted in the south in 1983, military grants and credits from the United States dropped abruptly and in 1985 Sudan terminated Operation Bright Star. After FY 1987, no assistance was extended with the exception of less than US$1 million annually for advanced training for Sudanese officers and training in the maintenance of previously supplied equipment. Military aid was formally suspended in 1989 under a provision of the United States Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting assistance to countries in arrears on interest payments on previous loans. In March 1990, the United States also invoked a provision of the act barring assistance to regimes overthrowing a democratic government.

According to a survey by ACDA of sources of arms imported by Sudan, Sudan obtained about US$350 million in military arms and equipment between 1983 and 1988. The United States was the largest supplier, accounting for US$120 million. China and France each provided US$30 million and Britain US$10 million. About US$160 million came from unidentified sources, probably largely from Egypt and Libya, and as purchases from other Western suppliers financed by Arab countries.

Data as of June 1991

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