When considering a nation’s military prowess, the focus often turns to its Air Force, the branch responsible for securing and defending its airspace and engaging in specialized aerial combat. This content highlights the 10 Best Air Forces in Africa 2024.
The capabilities of an Air Force encompass a wide range, from fighter jets and helicopters to rockets and other airborne equipment and armaments. Notably, the strongest and most technologically advanced Air Forces are typically found in advanced nations like the United States, Great Britain, Japan, China, and Russia. These countries allocate substantial annual budgets to ensure the safety of their citizens from aerial threats, underscoring the significance of the Air Force in a nation’s defense and security infrastructure.
The role of the Air Force extends across various critical functions, including reconnaissance, border patrol, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and air defense. This also encompasses air-to-air combat, military transport, search and rescue missions, disaster relief efforts, and more. In times of need, ground troops may rely on air support, highlighting the indispensable nature of the Air Force in modern warfare.
Most African nations have air forces, but the burning question is which countries have the best air force in Africa….?!
However, when focusing on the best air forces in Africa, it becomes evident that only a select few nations have achieved substantial advancements in their security services, particularly within their Air Forces. Most African countries operate with limited fighter units, often comprising outdated aircraft or none at all. Nevertheless, there are exceptions, as some African nations have embarked on remarkable journeys to modernize their air forces. These nations have invested in state-of-the-art equipment and provided rigorous training to their personnel, positioning themselves among the best Air Forces in Africa.
Several African countries have recently made strategic investments in combat aircraft. Notably, they have turned to aircraft designs such as the Russian Su-27, Su-30 Flanker, and MiG-29 Fulcrum, which have gained popularity and are now used by many top-tier air forces across the continent. These acquisitions have primarily served two critical purposes: defense against potential aggression, as seen in Algeria and Libya, and addressing pressing security challenges along their borders, as exemplified by Angola, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. These developments underscore the evolving landscape of African military capabilities, emphasizing the paramount importance of enhancing security in the face of regional challenges.
The Top Strongest Airforce in Africa in 2024
We’ll share the top strongest air forces in Africa in this article. The top 10 African countries with the most advanced and powerful aerial combat capabilities are evaluated, along with their most notable assets, below.
1. The Egyptian Air Force (EAF)
Image Source: Al Arabiya News
- Engagements:1948 Arab-Israeli War, Second Libyan Civil War, Suez Crises
- War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War, Shaba I, North Yemen Civil War, Six-Day War, Nigerian Civil War, Libyan-Egyptian War, Sinai Insurgency, Yemen War
- Total Aircraft: 1,200 units
- Fighter/Attack jets (about 764 units):
- Lockheed Martins F-16, Mirage 2000, Mirage 5, Chengdu F-7, Dassault Rafale, Alpha Jet, Aero L-39, Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21, F-4 Phantom, Aero L-59, CAIG Wing Loong UCAV, CH-4B
- Electronic Warfare & AEW&C: E-2HE2K, Beechcraft 1900, C-130, Commando MK.2E, Mil Mi-8, CAIG Wing Loong, CH-4B
- Helicopters (about 257 units): AH-64 Apache, AW139, Aerospatial Gazelle SA-342, Kamov Ka-50, Mil Mi-28 Havoc, Boeing CH-47 Chinook, Sikorsky UH-60, SH-2G Super SeaSprite, Westland SeaKing, AgustaWestland AW109
- Transport Aircraft: Approximately 266 units
- Trainer Aircraft: Approximately 384 units
- Personnel: Approximately 50,000 (30,000 Active Servicemen, 20,000 Reserve)
- Defence Budget (2014): Approximately $4.4 billion (3% GDP) plus $1.2 Billion in US defense assistance
Egypt, boasting one of Africa’s largest air forces, has been actively modernizing its military since the rise of a new government in 2013. Despite these efforts, it must acknowledge that it lags behind some of its counterparts regarding equipment quality.
The Egyptian Air Force comprises 18 fighter squadrons, yet only one is equipped with contemporary beyond-the-line-of-sight air-to-air missiles. This capability is found in a single unit of recently acquired MiG-29M aircraft. The F-16 Fighting Falcons, found in nine squadrons, are noticeable for their outdated armament. These F-16s rely on the aging AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, which lack active radar guidance and have limited range by modern standards due to political restrictions imposed by the United States. Consequently, these aircraft are ill-suited for air-to-ground or anti-shipping roles.
Additionally, seven squadrons in the Egyptian Air Force consist of MiG-21 and J-7 fighters, featuring early third-generation avionics but remaining essentially outdated in the current landscape. These fighters are considerably older than the more recent MiG-21BiS or J-7G variants, highlighting the need for further modernization efforts.
Egypt’s air force employs a range of fighter aircraft, with the MiG-29M standing out as one of the most effective options. Beyond this, they have 17 Mirage 2000 and 24 Rafale aircraft in their arsenal. However, it’s worth noting that despite its strong sensors, the Rafale lacks current Meteor or SCALP missiles, which significantly limits its overall capabilities.
Egypt still relies on the Mirage 5 attack planes for air-to-ground operations, which date back to the 1960s. The remainder of their fleet is undeniably antiquated. Notably, the F-16 and F-4E have been in the process of being phased out since 2018. In the coming decade, Egypt aims to substantially enhance its airpower capabilities by replacing these aging aircraft with modern light or mid-weight jets like the MiG-35 or JF-17 Block 3.
Egypt has also ordered a single squadron of Su-35 heavyweight fighters, a move that will grant them access to some of the most powerful aircraft on the continent. Beyond its fighter fleet, Egypt maintains a robust air defense system anchored by the S-300V4 and boasts one of the world’s premier assault helicopter fleets, featuring the AH-64 Apache and the Ka-52 Alligator. These capabilities contribute significantly to Egypt’s military prowess and readiness.
Egypt is the only African country with an airborne early warning system that is currently operational, and it uses the E-2 Hawkeye to achieve this.
2. Algerian Air Force (AAF)
Image Source: Ministry of National Defence, Algeria
- Engagements: Algerian War, FFS Rebellion, Western Sahara War, Algerian Civil War, Sand War, October War, Insurgency in the Maghreb
- Total Aircraft: About 502 units
- Fighter/Attack jets (187 units): MiG-29
- Sukhoi Su-24, Su-30, Yak-130, Mikoyan MiG-25
- Helicopters (257 units):
- Mil Mi-24 Hind, Bell 412, PZL Mi-2, Eurocopter AS355, Agusta Westland AS355, Mil Mi-8, Mil Mi-26, Mi-28 Havoc, Kamov Ka-27, AW139
- Transport Aircraft: 266 units
- Trainer Aircraft: 68 units
- Personnel: Approximately 14,000
- Defence Budget (as of 2012): $9,104,000,000 (4.5% GDP).
The Algerian Air Force, which has one of the strongest fleets in Africa, combines a huge arsenal of weaponry with modern technology and a high standard of personnel training in a way that no other military on the continent does.
Algeria’s air fleet is anchored by a formidable force of Su-30MKA heavyweight fighters, representing a sophisticated “4+ generation” evolution of the Su-30 Flanker design. These aircraft boast advanced sensors, exceptional flight performance, and the ability to engage various targets with various ammunition. There are approximately 45 Su-30 fighters in Algeria’s inventory, forming the backbone of their aerial capabilities.
Complementing the Su-30s, four tactical squadrons of MiG-29S fighters with a medium-weight classification stand ready to support their operations. The Su-30s also can launch Kh-31 Mach 3 cruise missiles, and all these aircraft are armed with cutting-edge weaponry, including R-27ER and R-77 long-range air-to-air missiles.
In addition to the Su-30 and MiG-29 aircraft, Algeria operates a fleet of 36 Su-24M specialized strike fighters, making it home to Africa’s largest collection of these potent aircraft. Furthermore, a squadron comprising 15 MiG-25PDS Foxbat interceptors serves a crucial air superiority role. The MiG-25 is the world’s fastest combat aircraft and the heaviest on the African continent, capable of soaring at Mach 3.2 at extreme altitudes. Remarkably, Algeria is among the select few countries, alongside South Africa, Uganda, and Sudan, to maintain a fleet composed entirely of fourth-generation combat aircraft. This distinction arises from their practice of retiring older-generation aircraft more swiftly than any other African air force.
While Algeria’s aerial combat capabilities are formidable, a notable limitation lies in the absence of airborne early-warning aircraft. This gap could potentially be addressed by acquiring modern technology such as the KJ-500. Algeria’s Air Force stands unrivaled on the African continent, bolstered by a robust helicopter fleet and boasting the region’s most advanced and dense air defense system.
3. The Ethiopian Air Force (ETAF)
Image Source: Egyptian Defence Portal
- Engagements: Gugsa Wale’s Rebellion, Ethiopian Civil War, Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Ethiopian-Somali War, Ethiopian-Eritrean War
- Aircraft: 80 aircraft
- Fighter/Attack Aircraft: 48 units, comprising Su-25 FrogFoot, MiG-23, MiG-21, Su-27
- Helicopters: 33 units, comprising Mil Mi-8,
- Mil Mi-24 Hind, Mil-Mi-6
- Transport Aircraft: 34 units
- Trainer aircraft: 14 units
- Personnel: Approximately 3,000
- Defence Budget (2012): $340,000,000 (0.8% GDP)
The Ethiopian Air Force, much like the Angolan Air Force, experienced rapid expansion during a period marked by conflict, particularly in the 1990s when tensions flared with Eritrea. This expansion enabled the Ethiopian Air Force to carry out critical missions such as airstrikes, reconnaissance, and, when necessary, engaging enemy fighter aircraft.
Initially, foreign contractors from the former Soviet Union manned Ethiopian aircraft. However, indigenous Ethiopian aviators replaced these foreign pilots over time. Ethiopia’s historical fleet predominantly consisted of Soviet MiG-23 aircraft; presently, the country maintains a squadron comprising roughly eight of these fighters. The MiG-23s are primarily deployed for air-to-ground missions and are complemented by an undisclosed number of Su-25 attack aircraft.
The cornerstone of Ethiopia’s airpower capabilities lies in its fleet of Su-27 heavyweight air supremacy fighters, with approximately 12–16 of these aircraft reportedly operational. Originally procured to counter Eritrea’s MiG-29s, the Su-27s were undeniably the most advanced fighter jets on the African continent during that period. In the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, these Su-27s made a significant impact by downing four MiGs without suffering any casualties themselves.
Recent updates from Ethiopian sources show that the nation’s Su-27 fleet has undergone upgrades, including the integration of new electronic warfare equipment and R-27ER missiles, which enhance the aircraft’s engagement range. Ethiopia also maintains a fleet of 18 Mi-24/35 assault helicopters and continues to fortify its air defense capabilities by incorporating the latest Russian weaponry.
4. The South African Air Force (SAAF)
Image Source: Youth Opportunities Hub
- Total Aircraft: The SAAF has approximately 229 aircraft, comprising 47 fighter and attack jet units. Aircraft include BAE Hawk, Agusta A109, JAS 39 Gripen, Rooivalk, C-47TP, and C-47TP Elint.
- Engagements: World War I, World War II, Korean War, Rhodesian Bush War, Mozambican Civil War, South African Border War, Operation Boleas, Battle of Bangui, M23 Rebellion, ADF Insurgency
- Electronic Warfare: Oryx EW, C-47TP ELINT
- Helicopters: 95 units comprising
- Rooivalk, Agusta A109, Oryx, Lynx 300
- Transport Aircraft: 109 units
- Trainer Aircraft: 88 units
- Personnel: approximately 11,000 Active Servicemen and 1,000 Reserve
- Defence Budget (2012): approximately $4,785,000,000 (1.1% GDP)
Established in 1920, the South African Air Force stands as one of the continent’s longest-serving air forces, boasting a rich history in aviation. South Africa’s aviation industry ranks among the most robust in Africa, solidifying the nation’s position as a significant player on the continent. South Africa’s air force maintains a substantial presence in the region with a formidable fleet comprising 213 aircraft and a projected military budget of approximately $4.96 billion.
In the annals of history, South Africa’s past includes a period during which it possessed six nuclear weapons. However, this chapter closed with the nation’s ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991, marking a pivotal moment that led to the decommissioning of these nuclear arms. South Africa maintains a strong and capable air force while adhering to international non-proliferation agreements.
5. Nigerian Air Force
Image source: Yemi Osinbajo
- Engagements: Nigerian Civil War, Niger Delta conflict, Liberian Civil War, Sierra Leone Civil War, Invasion of the Gambia, Northern Mali War, Boko Haram War
- Total Aircraft: 110 aircraft
- Fighter/Attack Jets: 31 units, comprising Dassault Alpha Jet, CH-3 UCAV, Aero L-39, Chengdu F-7
- Helicopters: 39 units, comprising Mil Mi-24/35 Hind, Agusta Westland AS 332, Mil Mi-17sh, AW 101, AW 139, AW 109
- Transport Aircraft: 53 units
- Trainer aircraft: 40 units
- Personnel: approximately 25,000
- Defence Budget (2012): $2,100,000,000 (1% GDP)
One might naturally wonder if Nigeria possesses the most formidable air force on the African continent. Nigeria, as one of the region’s most prosperous nations and boasting the largest population on the continent, undoubtedly commands a robust military, and its air force is a notable component of its strength. Indeed, Nigeria’s air force is a formidable force in the region.
In addition to its military prowess, Nigeria’s armed forces have earned recognition as significant contributors to peacekeeping efforts across the continent, further solidifying their role in regional stability and security.
The Nigerian Airforce has participated in the Niger Delta Conflict, the Sierra Leone Civil War, the Liberian Civil War, and the Nigerian Civil War. They participated in the conflict with Northern Mali and are currently taking part in the conflict with Boko Haram.
Exploring Nigeria’s position among Africa’s premier air forces is intriguing. Nigeria emerges as an undeniable powerhouse on the African continent in terms of its rapid population growth and substantial economic potential. Within this dynamic landscape, the Nigerian Air Force solidifies its standing as one of Africa’s most potent military forces.
Nigeria’s government has committed to allocating significant resources to bolster its military despite its corruption-related challenges. This resolute investment underscores the Nigerian Air Force’s pivotal role in safeguarding the country’s security and contributing to regional stability in Africa.
6. Kenyan Air Force
Image Source: Kenyan National Defence
- Total Aircraft: KAF has a total number of 152 aircraft. Aircraft include Northrop F-5, Cessna 208, Bell AH-1, Scottish Aviation Bulldog, Short Tucano, etc.
- Aircraft Source: KAF purchased aircraft from the United States, Netherlands, France, China, Canada, UK, Italy, and Germany.
- Missions/Engagements: The Kenyan Air Force participated in Operation Linda Nchi, the AU Mission in Somalia, etc.
The 6th best air force in Africa in 2024 is the Kenya Air Force. The troops of the Kenyan Air Force serve in peacekeeping operations all around the world.
7. Morrocan Air Force
- Engagements: Sand War, Western Sahara War, Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, Anti-ISIS war, War in Yemen
- Total Aircraft: 278 units
- Fighter/Attack Jets: 96 units comprising
- Lockheed Martins F-16, Dassault Alpha Jet, Dassault Mirage F-1, F-5 Tiger
- Electronic Warfare: Dassault Falcon 20
- Helicopters: 128 units comprising
- Aerospatial SA 342 Gazelle, Bell AB 205, Aerospatial SA 330 Puma, Boeing CH-47 Chinook
- Transport Aircraft: 158 units
- Trainer Aircraft: 80 units
- Personnel: 13,500
- Defence Budget (2012): $3,582,000,000 (3.5% GDP)
The composition of the Moroccan Air Force’s inventory is intricately tied to the ongoing conflict in Western Sahara and the imperative to maintain a defensive posture against the considerably more powerful Algerian forces nearby. At the core of Morocco’s fighter fleet are approximately 23 F-16C Fighting Falcon light jets equipped with AIM-120C7 air-to-air missiles. Morocco is the sole African nation with access to contemporary American air-launched weaponry, underscoring its strategic capabilities.
Comparatively, Morocco’s F-16s outshine their Egyptian counterparts thanks to differences in armament and subsystems. Besides Egypt’s newly acquired Rafale jets, Morocco’s Fighting Falcons rank as the most advanced Western fighters on the African continent.
Nonetheless, Algeria’s R-77 and R-27ER missiles, boasting extended range and payload capacity, maintain a competitive edge over the AIM-120C7. The Moroccan F-16s can also deploy AGM-88B HARM standoff air-to-ground missiles, highly effective against air defense and radar installations.
The Moroccan air fleet also includes third-generation aircraft comprising 26 Mirage F1 aircraft and 22 F-5E Tiger II aircraft. While these aircraft are aging, Morocco has enhanced the Mirages, equipping them to carry MICA missiles, thereby extending their air-to-air engagement range. Despite their age, these Mirages surpass the effectiveness of Egypt’s F-16s and all MiG-23 variants found on the continent.
While Morocco has contemplated purchasing S-400 air defense systems from Russia, Western political constraints will likely hinder such a transaction. Consequently, ground-based air defense and close air support capabilities remain notable weaknesses within the Moroccan military landscape.
8. Tunisian Air Force
- Missions: The Tunisian air force has had about 159 engagements, usually based on the war on terror
- Total Aircraft: Approximately 148 aircraft
- Fighter/Attack Jets: 30 units, comprising Aero L-59T Super Albatros, Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II
- Helicopters: 83 units, comprising SA-341 10, HH-3 10, Agusta-Bell AB-205A 15, AS-350B 6, AS-365 1, SA-313 6, SA-316 3, UH-1H 29, UH-1N 2, Agusta-Bell AB-412 4
- Transport Aircraft: 89 units
- Trainer aircraft: 40 units
- Personnel: Approximately 3,000
- Defence Budget (2012): $746,000,000 (3.% GDP)
Tunisia’s air force, boasting a fleet of around 150 aircraft and four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), secures the ninth position among all African air forces. This formidable force exerts influence not only domestically but also on the global stage.
Tunisia is a prominent player in North African and international aviation circles, with one of the region’s premier air forces. The nation has substantially reinforced its air capabilities by strategically acquiring numerous UAVs and aircraft. Furthermore, Tunisia’s arsenal now includes more advanced weaponry, further enhancing its air force’s effectiveness. Renowned for its proactive operations to safeguard the nation’s internal stability and external interests, Tunisia’s air force is a force to be reckoned with.
9. National Air Force of Angola
- Engagements: Angolan Civil War, Congo Crises
- Total Aircraft: Within the range of 285-348 units:
- Fighter/Attack jets: about 138 units comprising Su-22, Sukhoi Su-30k, MiG-21, Su-27, Mikoyan MiG-23,
- Helicopters: approximately 118 units, comprising Agusta Westland AW 139, Mil Mi-24 Hind, Mi-8, AW 109, Bell 212, Alouette III, Aerospatiale Gazelle
- Transport Aircraft: 128 units
- Trainer Aircraft: 48 units
- Personnel: Unknown
- Defence Budget (2012): approximately $3,827,000,000 (3.5% GDP)
The Angolan Air Force, long regarded as the preeminent force in sub-Saharan Africa, emerged as a formidable entity during the 1980s. This development was made possible through support from nations such as Cuba, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and East Germany. Its primary mission was to counter the South African apartheid regime, which enjoyed substantial backing from Israel and aligned itself with the United States.
In its early years, the Angolan air fleet was primarily composed of MiG-23 swept-wing fighters, often piloted by Cuban volunteers. These MiG-23 aircraft demonstrated exceptional effectiveness, particularly in engagements against South African air units. A single MiG-23 squadron, housing roughly 28 fighters, remains operational alongside one MiG-21BiS squadron and one Su-22 squadron, each representing updated third-generation aircraft.
The Angolan Air Force’s elite squadrons are equipped with twelve Su-30 fighter jets, recently overhauled in Belarus to attain a “4+ generation” status. Additionally, the force relies on approximately six heavyweight Su-27 air superiority fighters. While not officially confirmed, there is a belief that Angola has armed its Su-30 and likely Su-27 aircraft with R-77 active radar-guided missiles. This formidable fleet surpasses all others in southern Africa in terms of firepower, bolstered by the deployment of an unspecified number of potent Su-24 strike planes, a squadron of Su-25 attack jets, and two squadrons of Mi-24/Mi-35 attack helicopters.
10. Libyan Air Force
- Total Aircraft: The Libyan Air Force has a total number of approximately 120 aircraft.
- Aircraft include: Su-22, Su-24, An-72, ll-76, C-130 Hercules, L-100 Hercules, MiG-21, Mil Mi-24/3c, MiG-25
- Personnel/Manpower: The Libyan Air Force has a total number of 4,500 personnel.
- Aircraft Source: Libya purchased aircraft from the United States, Russia, Turkey, France, Poland, Italy, and the Soviet Union.
- Missions/Engagement: Libyan civil war, Libyan-Egyptian war, Uganda-Tanzania war, Chadian-Libyan conflict, etc.
Libya commands the tenth-ranked aviation force on the African continent, which may surprise many, considering the tumultuous events of the 2011 Libyan revolution. Intriguingly, the nation’s personnel count is reported to surpass the available artillery and ammunition resources, underscoring the scale of its military operations. Libya’s air assets comprise an impressive fleet of 121 helicopters and approximately 600 aircraft within its air force. The country allocates a defense budget of around $880 million to support these formidable capabilities.
In conclusion, the African continent is home to diverse air forces shaped by historical events, regional dynamics, and strategic objectives. From the enduring strength of the Angolan Air Force, nurtured in the crucible of conflict, to the modernization efforts of nations like Egypt and Morocco, these air forces play pivotal roles in safeguarding national interests and regional stability.
With their burgeoning populations and economic potential, countries like Nigeria wield air forces that reflect their regional significance. Tunisia’s steadfast commitment to enhancing its air capabilities showcases its growing influence in North Africa. Meanwhile, despite a turbulent recent history, Libya’s resilience underscores the enduring importance of air power on the continent.
Algeria, boasting a formidable fighter fleet and advanced air defense systems, sets a high standard for air superiority. South Africa’s rich aviation history and commitment to non-proliferation agreements illustrate the complex landscape of African air forces.
These diverse air forces’ capabilities and resources collectively contribute to the continent’s defense, security, and regional stability. While challenges persist, they continue to evolve, adapt, and strengthen their positions on the global stage. As Africa faces new geopolitical dynamics and emerging threats, these top air forces will remain central to the continent’s security and prosperity.