Swiss Kerfuffle Over Chad’s Use of Pilatus Aircraft

August 11/15: Jordan has opted to buy Swiss turboprop trainers, signing a contract with Pilatus external link for nine of the company’s PC-9M external link aircraft, as well as a simulator and support services. Delivery will begin in January 2017. Oman also operates the PC-9M, with the model at the heart of a political scandal in 2008 centered around Chad’s breach of Swiss export controls.

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Darfur refugees(click to view full) The Swiss Pilatus PC-9M was a recent candidate to an RFP for COIN aircraft issued by Iraq. An incident involving the African nation of Chad would appear to have removed this possibility for them, and shrunk Pilatus’ market sharply in favor of competitors in Korea (KT/A-1), Brazil (EMB 314), etc. […]
GEO Darfur Refugee Camps Map

Darfur refugees
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The Swiss Pilatus PC-9M was a recent candidate to an RFP for COIN aircraft issued by Iraq. An incident involving the African nation of Chad would appear to have removed this possibility for them, and shrunk Pilatus’ market sharply in favor of competitors in Korea (KT/A-1), Brazil (EMB 314), etc.

Chad’s government borders Sudan, and the same janjaweed forces that perpetrated the Darfur genocide have also been involved in attacks inside neighboring countries like Chad. Relations between Chad and Sudan have deteriorated badly in response, with Chad accusing Sudan of having a destabilization plan for their country, and of using the same Darfur tactic of arming and unleashing terrorists to that end. A series of mediation efforts and agreements have followed, which have mostly been ignored as the fighting continues. Now, one of those battles has wider ramifications.

Chad: State of the Air Force

AIR Mi-17 Armed Landing

Mi-17, armed
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Information concerning Chad’s air force is sketchy, but Swiss reports quote Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus confirming that Chad’s fleet includes 3 PC-7 turboprops, plus 1 PC-9M that it bought in 2006 to replace a PC-7 it had purchased from France. This is where the problems begin – and so too, does the outline of a likely trend in the global arms market…

Chad’s air force has few offensive aircraft of any description. Candidates include 2 Mi-4 Hind attack helicopters, if they are available for flight, 2 Mi-17 medium utility helicopters, which can be armed, and up to 2 remaining Aermacchi SF-260 turboprop trainer/ light attack aircraft of of the 9 captured from Libya during the 1980s. Most countries use Pilatus aircraft as trainers, but a PC-9 can be modified to carry up to 1,040 kg/ 2,900 pounds of ordnance, and PC-7s can also be equipped with up to 6 hardpoints to carry munitions.

“Unnamed military sources,” however, are claiming that helicopters and a Pilatus aircraft (in some cases, identified as a PC-9) participated in attacks within Sudan on Jan 7/08 against “Union of Forces for Democracy and Development” forces, accompanied by an Mi-24 helicopter gunship and an armed Mi-17 helicopter. It is possible that this represented the sum total of Chad’s aerial combat power available for flight on that day. Union of Forces for Democracy and Development – Fundamental (UFDD-F) leader Abdelwahid Aboud Makaye confirmed that his forces were bombed inside Sudan: “Our headquarters are on the Sudanese side; we sustained a few wounded.”

Before this attack, the UFDD had been most famous in Europe for declaring a “state of war” against French and foreign military forces, in an apparent warning to EUFOR Chad’s 3,700 European Union peacekeeping troops. EUFOR Chad is set to deploy in eastern Chad on a U.N. mission to protect camps housing more than 400,000 Chadian and Sudanese refugees.

Pilatus and Export Controls

AIR PC-9M Slovenian Adrian Pingstone

Slovenian PC-9M
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Pilatus aircraft do not fall under the strict Swiss War Material Act, which forbids the export of military aircraft to combat zones. Instead, they are subject to Switzerland’s Goods Control Act (GKG) that covers dual-use goods and armaments. The sale of the replacement PC-9 was approved by the government in June, 2006, reportedly on the condition that it would be used only to train pilots.

The tension in Swiss arms exports is often manifest between Article 5 and Article 22 of its export control provisions. Article 22 of the War Material Act states that export is authorized if it does not contravene international law, Swiss foreign policy, or international obligations. This general principle is complemented by a series of criteria, as listed under article 5 of the law on war materiel. These include “the maintaining of peace and international security, the domestic situation in the destination country and its respect of human rights and attitude towards the international community.”

Pilatus aircraft have been sold very widely around the world as trainers, including a number of questionable regimes. PC-7 aircraft were sold to Angola’s Marxist government during its 1980s civil war (25 + 4 PC-9s eventually sold to that country). During the 1980s, Pilatus also sold PC-7s and PC-9Ms to Iraq (52 PC-7, 20 PC-9). The 1990s saw sales to Myanmar’s junta (17), and South Africa before the dissolution of apartheid (60 eventually sold). The 1990s sales were harshly criticized by Switzerland’s leftist Social Democrats and Swiss pacifist groups, as was the 2006 sale to Chad.

Social Democrat Barbara Haering, the president of the commission on security issues, said at the time that it was cynical for Switzerland to support peace initiatives in the region while delivering aircraft that could be deployed in combat missions. (The cynicism of supporting ‘peace’ missions that have no effect on the ground during a genocide was not discussed). In response, Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) director Jean-Daniel Gerber said that neither the United Nations nor the European Union had imposed any sanctions on Chad, which would have been grounds for Switzerland to delay the sale. As noted above, restrictive agreements were put in place to ensure that the aircraft could not be used in a combat role.

The Swiss government has now summoned Chad’s ambassador to explain why his country may have equipped a Pilatus aircraft with weapons in breach of that export agreement, and Swiss officials said they were continuing their investigation into the affair. This includes queries to Pilatus concerning the role of its maintenance staff assigned to Chad. Government pressure may then be applied to have those maintenance activities curtailed, which would have the likely effect of grounding Chad’s Pilatus fleet until/unless a private security contractor can be found to step in and perform this front-line maintenance.



Super Tucano
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It can be stated with near-certainty that the Pilatus PC-9 is no longer a serious candidate for the Iraqi contract in the wake of this incident. Even if Pilatus would have been able to bid, their vendor risk profile has just hit unacceptable levels, despite their incumbency as suppliers to Saddam’s IqAF.

Meanwhile, competitors like Korea’s new KT/A-1 Woong Bee and Brazil’s EMB 314 Super Tucano are available to other countries, along with support, without the same kind of restrictions. As are Chinese and Russian combat jets, for that matter. American allies also have the T-6B/AT-6B trainer/light attack aircraft as an option, which was originally based on a Pilatus design but extensively modified.

DID readers have seen countries like Indonesia turn to Russia as an arms vendor, and directly cite British restrictions on the internal use of their Army’s equipment. In the wake of the Cold War, a combination of Russian resurgence, the emergence of 3rd world manufacturers into a global armaments market no longer partitioned by the 2 superpowers, and China’s growing exports, all combine to create a much wider array of choices. Tolerance of weapon usage restrictions, which has always been strained, is becoming both more strained and less necessary.

Pilatus will continue to export its aircraft in Europe and the Middle East, but competition is growing – and 3rd world buyers are beginning to look at a different set of manufacturers for their air and ground forces. The kerfuffle over Chad is an extremely minor event, taken by itself. The notice it attracts, the lessons drawn from it, and the trends it is likely to give impetus to, are more significant.


August 11/15: Jordan has opted to buy Swiss turboprop trainers, signing a contract with Pilatus for nine of the company’s PC-9M aircraft, as well as a simulator and support services. Delivery will begin in January 2017. Oman also operates the PC-9M, with the model at the heart of a political scandal in 2008 centered around Chad’s breach of Swiss export controls.

Additional Readings & Sources

* Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco). Administers export controls.

Aircraft Background

* Wikipedia – Chad Air Force.

* Wikipedia – Pilatus PC-9.

* Combat Aircraft – Pilatus PC-9.

* Wikipedia – Sudan Air Force. Unlike Chad, Sudan’s air force has quite a few dedicated jet combat aircraft and attack helicopters, almost all of which come from China and Russia (20 Bo-105 light utility/attack helicopters from Germany are the sole exception).

Darfur and Chad

* Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – The crisis in Darfur: A timeline.

* Wikipedia – Chad-Sudan Conflict. Good summary.

* USAID – Satellite Imagery. Click the names on the map below to see satellite images of refugee camps in Chad and internally-displaced persons camps in Sudan.

* Amnesty International (June 20/06) – Chad/Sudan: Sowing the seeds of Darfur: Ethnic targeting in Chad by Janjawid militias from Sudan.

News & Views

* Bellingcat (Sept 11/14) – First of Chad’s MIG-29 Arrives In N’Djamena. Via Ukraine, where it joins 8-10 Su-25 close air support jets. Predictably, Chad turned elsewhere, and got deadlier gear in the bargain. Article include IMINT satellite photos.

* Jamestown Foundation (Feb 11/09) – Russia’s Arms Sales to Sudan a First Step in Return to Africa, Part One | Part Two]. “The Sudanese military is embarking on a massive modernization campaign and appears to have found a willing partner in Russia, which seeks to extend its influence in Africa and find new customers for Russia’s active arms industry as sales to China drop off dramatically. China has also become Russia’s main competition…”

* Reuters (Dec 31/08) – Sudan flies new jets in show of military muscle. The jets include 4 SU-25 dedicated close air support jets that entered service in 2008. Sudan has been under a UN arms embargo imposed since 2004.

* UPI Asia (Sept 17/08) – China exports attack craft to Sudan. “China’s official media have released photos of K-8 fighter trainers demonstrating impressive attack power against land-based targets. The aircraft are the same model that China has exported to Sudan, ostensibly for training purposes…”

* New America Foundation (Aug 5/08) – Deadly Traffic: China’s Arms Trade With The Sudan [PDF]. Includes weapons factories as well as rifles, trucks, tanks, APCs, and fighter aircraft.

* Swiss Seco (Jan 17/08) – Statement re: Chad (German, Italian, French).

* Swiss Information Service (Jan 17/08) – Chad Likely Armed Swiss-Made Aircraft.

* AFP, via NASDAQ (Jan 8/08) – UPDATE: Chad’s Air Force Bombs Rebel Base Inside Sudan – AFP.

* Reuters AlertNet (Nov 30/07) – Chad rebels declare war on French, foreign forces. This refers to the proposed EUFOR Chad, comprising 3,700 European Union peacekeeping troops who would deploy in eastern Chad on a U.N. They’d be tasked with protecting camps housing more than 400,000 Chadian and Sudanese refugees.

* Swiss Information Service (Nov 13/07) – Arms sales to Pakistan come under scrutiny. The deal involves Swiss firm Oerlikon-Contraves, and a SFr 136 million/ $120 million contract for anti-aircraft systems. Interesting political tidbit here: “Andreas Gross, a parliamentarian from the centre-left Social Democratic Party and founder of the Group for a Switzerland without an Army that wants a total ban on arms exports…”

* Swiss Information Service (Sept 21/07) – Pacifists make a move to end arms exports. Led by the group Switzerland Without An Army, the referendum resolution would ban the export and transfer of all military material, including “technology that can be used for the development, production and use of weapons,” i.e. production under license. A similar proposal in 1997 was rejected at the ballot box by more than three quarters of voters.

* Swiss Information Service (July 3/04) – Switzerland cited for small arms exports to Sudan. Seco was surprised by the report, and issued a blunt assessment: “Either these figures [from Sudan’s government] are incorrect, or these are weapons exported illegally.”

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