Foreign drones in Sudan

Mina Adel, Saturday 4 May 2024

The ongoing conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan has taken a new turn with the widespread use of drones, reports Mina Adel

Foreign drones in Sudan


On 15 September last year, while Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fighters rushed to attack Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) positions in Khartoum, they were surprised by the sound of light rotors followed by the tyres of their car exploding, stopping it immediately. Seconds later, they saw a small drone attacking them from above. The passengers were either killed or injured.

On 20 September, CNN reported that “Ukraine’s special services” may be behind a series of drone strikes and a ground operation against the Russian Wagner Group-backed RSF rebels near Sudan’s capital. Video footage obtained by CNN revealed the hallmarks of Ukrainian-style drone attacks with text in Ukrainian reading “Stop.”

The Sudanese army has relied heavily on its air force since the outbreak of military operations to defend the capital. This has been accomplished through missions to support the ground forces carried out by fighter aircraft like the MiG-29, bombers like the Su-25, and attack helicopters like the Mi-24 from Wadi Sayyidna.

Bomber aircraft have been carrying out attacks on RSF command centres. However, these aircraft use unguided weapons that could lead to civilian casualties in crowded cities, and the RSF have relied on using light, fast, and dispersed forces to attack the SAF from multiple directions, creating a challenge for pilots to identify and hit their targets.

Even though the pilots have been able to hit multiple targets effectively with their superb ultra-low flying skills, this has been insufficient to deter RSF forces on the streets of the capital, causing Chairman of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan to ask for help from abroad.

In March the Wall Street Journal cited  Sudanese and Ukrainian military officials saying Ukrainian “President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to help Al-Burhan after he secretly supplied Ukraine with weapons immediately after Russia’s full-scale invasion.”

The move was also made because Sudan’s RSF rebels were being supported by Russian Wagner Group Private Military Company (PMC) troops, who were mining gold in the country and using it to finance the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

A few weeks after receiving the request for help from Al-Burhan, Ukrainian special forces landed in Sudan and began to drive the rebel forces out of Khartoum.

Their mission was to help Al-Burhan himself leave Khartoum, which the RSF rebel group surrounded.

A military rapprochement between Iran and Sudan started in October 2023. The SAF was then given further capability for both offensive and defensive operations when Tehran delivered Mohajer-6 drones. However, in January 2024, the Wagner PMC obtained man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS), used by the RSF to shoot down an armed Mohajer-6 drone over Khartoum.

On the other hand, the RSF has used  VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drones, armed with two 120 mm mortar rounds, which the SAF shot down for the first time in February 2024.

According to the Military Africa website, “the unique drone was operated by the Rapid Support Force (RSF) in its fight in Sudan, made by the Serbian company Yugoimport SDPR, in 2020, using 120 mm thermobaric airdrop shells and requiring the drone to fly at a low altitude to target Sudanese individuals, making it vulnerable to ground fire.”

Reliance on drones will be greater in upcoming battles, especially near the city of Al-Fasher.

The UN spokesperson said: “The Rapid Support Forces are reportedly encircling Al-Fasher, suggesting a coordinated move to attack the city may be imminent. Simultaneously, the Sudanese Armed Forces appear to be positioning themselves.”

Consequently, the RSF have been supplied with new Chinese sunflower suicide drones that will play an important part in attacking the defensive positions of the Sudanese forces stationed in the city and attempting to disrupt air operations by targeting the air base at the start of the attack on the city. In addition to procuring commercial suicide drones, Wagner provided drones similar to those used by the Sudanese army, which will give air support in closed residential neighbourhoods to target concentrations of soldiers and artillery.

The Sudanese army, by contrast, recently purchased Chinese SkyFend Hunter anti-drone rifles to defend its positions while following a three-stage defence strategy using Su-25 bombers and Mi-24 attack helicopters from the Al-Fasher Air Base to disrupt RSF mobilisation, and with the start of the attack.

The second stage begins using fixed-wing drones of the Muhajer-6 model to attack vehicles rushing into the city, while the final stage will be carried out using small drones.

But, with the increasing use of drones, it will be even more difficult to avoid civilian casualties due to the negative impact of the subsequent explosions. This heralds a human catastrophe in the city.

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