Radius of Operations: Sudan Increases Air Attack Capacity

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The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are rapidly working to enhance air strike and air assault capacity in two airbases recently captured from rebels in Sudan’s Blue Nile border area. Since taking control of the town of Kurmuk on 2 November, SAF has started building fortifications around the airstrip, positioned armor and other units nearby, and appear to be upgrading the facility. The airstrip at Kurmuk is now the southern most airstrip under SAF control along the border with South Sudan. There are three visible craters currently on the runway, which are consistent with artillery or aerial bombardment, which must be repaired before the strip can be fully operational. The airstrip at Kurmuk is 1500 meters in length, long enough for landing an Antonov An-26 and other attack aircraft. The Antonov An-26 has a potential operational radius of approximately 1100km/683.5m. Stationing attack aircraft in Kurmuk would allow SAF to strike targets in Upper Nile, Blue Nile, Sennar State and elsewhere in southern Sudan over less distance and with greater frequency than at any other SAF airbase.

Additionally, SAF appears to be rapidly building helipads in Kurmuk. On 28 September, when SPLA-N forces still controlled Kurmuk, there appeared to be one area consistent with a helipad at a compound. As of 10 November, there are now five areas consistent with helipads at that same compound in Kurmuk, which indicates that as many as four additional helipads have been built by SAF in approximately a week since the SAF captured Kurmuk. These helipads will allow SAF to base helicopter gunships and transport helicopters needed for the transport of air assault infantry near the border with South Sudan.

DigitalGlobe imagery analyzed by SSP from 24 October shows the presence of three attack helicopters and one Antonov at the SAF-controlled Damazin airstrip. The presence of air assets and expansion of the air strip affirms SAF’s growing air capacity in Blue Nile enabling a projection of force throughout Blue Nile, Upper Nile, and southern Sudan.