HomeInternational GeopoliticsRussia’s Key Ally Loses Its ‘Entire’ Sukhoi Fighter Jet Fleet As Moscow...

Russia’s Key Ally Loses Its ‘Entire’ Sukhoi Fighter Jet Fleet As Moscow Tries Rebuilding Mali’s Air Force

The Mali Air Force lost another Su-25 Frogfoot in a crash on September 9, months after it received the aircraft from Russia.

According to reports from the African country, tragedy hit Mali when the country’s sole Sukhoi Su-25 strike plane crashed in the Gao region. However, the aircraft’s pilot managed to escape and is reportedly safe. Unfortunately, the crash wiped out Mali’s Su-25 attack fleet.

This accident happened soon after a terrorist attack on the Gao airport the day before, which tragically resulted in the deaths of at least 15 military men.

Mali’s Armed Forces announced last week that some Armed groups attacked a passenger boat and their camp in Mali. In that attack, “at least three rockets” targeted the passenger vessel and aimed at its engine.

These terrorist attacks, which have since been attributed to the Islamist militants active in the region, claimed the lives of another 49 civilians. Moreover, experts believe they have exposed Mali’s deteriorating security situation.

According to visual evidence from the crash site, the Malian Air Force lost its Su-25 with registration TZ-25C, delivered in January 2023. According to other reports, the Coordination of Azawad Movement (CAM) soldiers fired on the jet, which could have partly caused the air crash. In contrast, others suggested inclement weather on that particular day, perhaps, had an impact.

On his part, the chief of the Malian Air Force attributed the tragic crash to “technical difficulties” and bad weather. However, it is noteworthy that the Mali Air Force had conducted airstrikes on positions held by the CAM in Anefis.

Reports on social media hinted that the CAM troops targeted the aircraft after it performed airstrikes on Almoustrat. Military bloggers on X noted that the plane crashed in a mountainous region about 10 kilometers west of Ifardan while attempting to land at the Gao airport.

Not just that, according to another report, an unconfirmed image of a MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense System) deployed by the rebel group surfaced. The FIM-43 ‘Redeye’ MANPADS in the image is a US product. It is entirely conceivable that MANPADS were brought into Mali illegally from either Libya or Chad.

None of these reports could be independently corroborated by EurAsian Times without a clear explanation by Mali’s Armed Forces or government.

In the 2022 crash, another Su-25 close air support aircraft with registration TZ-20C was lost. The Su-25 crashes could, thus, become a bone of contention between Russia and Mali, according to international military watchers.

The air crashes are a possible reason for the derailment of Russian efforts to bolster Mali’s air power, which remains hit by domestic conflict and frequent terrorist attacks.

Earlier this year, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies observed in a study that Mali’s extremist Islamist groups pose a more significant and more extensive threat, and the possibility of Mali’s collapse was imminent as the military junta clung to power and its deliberate alienation of regional and global security partners.

Titled ‘Mali Catastrophe Accelerating under Junta Rule,’ the report noted, “Mali is on pace to see over 1,000 violent events involving militant Islamist groups in 2023, eclipsing last year’s record levels of violence and a nearly three-fold increase from when the junta seized power in 2020.” It was published in July, and several militant attacks have since taken place in Mali, resulting in extensive and lethal damage.

If it is established that the CAM militants targeted the Su-25 attack aircraft, it would expose the vulnerability of the Mali Air Force despite acquiring combat-hardened systems from its friend, Russia.

What Is Left Of The Mali Air Force?

When foreign forces began withdrawing from the African nation, Mali approached the domestic security issues more pragmatically. It swiftly decommissioned most of its archaic assets that had outlived their utility, including its S-125 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and MiG-21 fighter aircraft.

Since then, the Mali Air Force completely rebuilt its fleet. In 2015, Brazil provided four A-29B Super Tucanos, delivered in 2018, while Russia provided four Mi-35M attack helicopters, duly delivered between 2017 and 2021. For intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), Mali received a Cessna 208 in 2019 as a gift from the EU.

These airframes make up the core of the Mali Air Force, together with three Mi-24D attack helicopters, two H215 Super Puma transport helicopters, and a single C-295W transport aircraft. Even though the Mali Air Force is a small unit, it was one of the most advanced and effective in the region.

The purchase and donation of additional Russian military equipment immediately followed Assimi Gota’s ascension to power. The Mali Air Force received two Mi-24P attack helicopters and four Mi-171Shs in December 2021.

According to Dutch-based OSINT website Oryx, the Mali Air Force was further bolstered three times — in August 2022, January 2023, and March 2023 with the addition of 15 L-39C armed jet trainers, two Mi-24P attack helicopters, three Mi-8T transport helicopters, two Su-25 close air support aircraft, two Mi-24P attack helicopters, one more C-295W transport aircraft from Spain, and two Mi-24P attack helicopters from Russia.

Ukrainian Su-25
File Photo: Ukrainian AirForce-Su-25

Now, with the crash of the last remaining Su-25, the Mali Air Force is left with about 15 L-39C aircraft and just a few A-29B Super Tucanos. The L-39C does not have the guided armament, advanced sighting systems, or endurance it would ideally need while operating in the Sahel region.

The Su-25 gave enhanced capability to the Mali Air Force, which explained why the aircraft was dispatched to conduct airstrikes on militant groups. The Frogfoot has been extensively and successfully deployed by Russia and Ukraine in the ongoing war, primarily to conduct ground strikes.

A subsonic, single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft, it was primarily developed for ground-strike missions and close air support for ground forces. Apart from Mali, several African states, including the Ivory Coast, Chad, and Sudan, are known to have deployed the Su-25 in local insurgencies and civil wars.

Regarding speed and cargo capability, the Su-25 Frogfoot significantly outperformed the L-39 and Embraer EMB 314 Tucano currently used by the Mali Air Force. The aircraft had a 30mm cannon and could carry four tonnes of ammunition, a capability the service would have to do without now.

The loss of all the Su-25 aircraft in its inventory could likely be a setback to the Mali Air Force, grappling with a precarious security situation. The Tucanos could be armed and used for ground attack missions, but it is unlikely to fill the gap left by the Su-25.

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