Following the overthrow of the Abdullah Hamdok government in Sudan in the final week of October, which had been installed following a Western-backed military coup in April 2019, Sudan’s new interim government has indicated that it will proceed with plans to construct a Russian military base on the Red Sea. The possibility for such a base being constructed was first raised in late 2017 when Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir visited Moscow and met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Bashir highlighted in interviews with Russian state media at the time that his country faced an imminent threat of partitioning and subversion due to Western intervention, and that Russian support was needed to bolster the country’s security. At the time reports emerged that the Sudanese Air Force was considering the acquisition of heavyweight Su-30 or Su-35 Flanker aircraft, with reports from within the country indicating that some could have been deployed to Sudan briefly for testing purposes. With the pro-Western government that was installed by the 2019 coup having been removed from power, the possibility not only of a base but also of transfers of high end Russian hardware to Sudan has again been raised.
Sudanese media outlets reported that Russia intended to pay for access to Susan’s Red Sea coast with the transfer of a range of armaments including S-300 air defence systems and two squadrons of Su-30SM fighters. The Su-30SM bridges the performance gap between older Su-30 variants and the new Su-35, and if acquired would replace the MiG-29s and Su-24s currently in Sudanese service. Sudanese fighter squadrons are currently relatively small, and Su-30 squadrons could be made up of around twelve fighters each. The Su-30 has higher operational costs than fighters in the existing Sudanese inventory, and it remains uncertain whether Russia would help cover this as part of the deal by supplying spare parts for free over the contract’s lifetime. Other than the Egyptian Air Force’s recently acquired Su-35s, the Su-30SM would represent the most capable fighter on the African continent and would revolutionise Sudanese aerial warfare capabilities which are already among the best in the region. Russian interest in a military presence follows the expansion of its air force presence in Syria, reported deployment of Russian military contractors to Mali and Libya, and an erosion of Western influence in many areas of Africa and the Middle East.
The Su-30SM has been one of the most popular Russian fighters both with the country’s own air force and navy and with export clients, with close to 150 having been built over the past decade. Recent clients have included Armenia, Myanmar, Belarus and Kazakhstan, while the similar Su-30MKA and MKI are currently being built for Algeria and India respectively. The Su-30SM is capable of air to air, strike and anti shipping missions, and is compatible with Russia’s new R-37M very long range air to air missile. If armed with the longest ranged compatible standoff missiles it would allow the Sudanese Air Force be able to strike targets across the Middle East and much of Africa and Europe.