The Angolan Air Force was built in the 1980s, mainly due to conflicts with neighboring South Africa
The modern fighters of the Angolan Air Force include 6 Su-27 heavy fighters and 12 Su-30KN Flankers, forming one of the most modern and highly capable squadrons on the African continent. Angola’s other three fighter squadrons consist of older but still relatively capable third-generation fighters; consisting of a squadron of 26 MiG-23 variable-geometry fighters; this is the best Soviet 3rd generation fighter. 18 of them are MiG-23ML versions; this is the variant with the best combat capabilities and has been upgraded to the standard of the 4th generation fighter.
The Angolan Air Force also possesses 20 MiG-21Bis light fighters, and a squadron of 13 dedicated Su-22 ground attack fighters. In addition to the fighters, the Angolan Air Force has a fleet of 10 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, optimized for air support of their ground forces. The Angolan Air Force also has a fleet of six Chinese K-8 light jets. Although classified as a trainer, the K-8 is also highly capable of combating as an attack aircraft.
Angola boasts a very large attack helicopter fleet, consisting of 56 relatively modern Soviet/Russian aircraft, including 34 Mi-24 and 22 Mi-35 helicopters. All of the ground attack aircraft give the Angolan Army a very powerful, high-precision air support firepower; enough to counter enemy ground targets and provide substantial support for ground combat forces.
One notable weakness is that the country’s air defense capabilities are relatively weak; consisting mainly of Soviet-made air defense systems from the 1960s. These are medium-range S-75M, 2K12 Kub and short-range S-125 missile systems. It is likely that these air defense systems will soon be replaced by modern Russian air defense systems such as BuK-M3 and Pantsir-SM.
Air defense capabilities will be partially offset by relatively advanced air-to-air capabilities from Angola’s fighter squadrons. Angola’s MiG-23ML fighters have been upgraded, including R-27 air-to-air missile compatibility; this is a major upgrade package for the MiG-23, which became more widely used in the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, the radar of the MiG-23ML has a powerful capacity, comparable to the radar of light fourth generation fighters, such as the F-16 Block 30.
The most recent purchase by the Angolan Air Force was in 2019, with 12 Su-30KNs, providing the ability to carry out precision strikes. Aircraft are appreciated for their very powerful sensors, as well as their high durability and range. The Su-30KNs were modernized in Belarus, before being handed over to Angola, and form the backbone of Angola’s current air combat capabilities.
Angola also deploys a sizable reserve fleet, consisting of older Su-27 and MiG-23ML fighters, as well as an attack unit of 12 Su-24M fighters. The drop in oil prices, which led to reduced government revenues, as well as the need for the Su-30 and its high operating costs, ultimately led to the removal of the aircraft from frontline service; though they will be brought back into service in the event of war. Relations between Angola and South Africa are currently stable; Therefore, the ability to increase defense spending or expand Angola’s air force is not an urgent issue.