Zaire Table of Contents
The air force consists of approximately 1,800 personnel and provides close air support, aerial reconnaissance, and transport support for the other services. To accomplish this mission, the air force is organized into one fighter squadron, one counterinsurgency squadron, one transport wing, one helicopter squadron, and a training element.
The air force has had little opportunity to demonstrate its capability; however, during the 1977 Shaba invasion, the air force's combat performance was reportedly no better than the army's. Western observers reported that Zairian pilots flying Italian trainers as fighter-bombers were particularly ineffective; their munitions usually landed harmlessly wide of the targets. During Shaba II, the FLNC destroyed four Aermachi MB-326K counterinsurgency aircraft, one Alouette helicopter, and an SA-330 Puma helicopter on the ground when its forces captured the airport at Kolwezi. The Zairians attempted to use their Mirage jets against the rebels, but to little effect. More recently, four Zairian air force pilots died when their jets collided in mid-air while returning from military exercises at Kamina in 1988.
Several factors have affected air force capability. Pilots are often inadequately trained to fly their aircraft; even when trained, funding is normally insufficient to provide an adequate number of flying hours for the pilots to maintain their proficiency. And because of poor maintenance over 75 percent of the aircraft are often nondeployable. The air force's major equipment includes Mirage ground attack fighters; assorted counterinsurgency aircraft; a variety of transport aircraft; military helicopters; liaison aircraft; and training aircraft (see table 18, Appendix). Future military requirements include additional transports and spare parts.
Data as of December 1993