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Eritrean Air Force
Founded1994; 30 years ago (1994)
Country Eritrea
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size19 aircraft - 2023[1]
Part ofEritrean Defence Forces
Teklai Habteselassie
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
Attack helicopterMi-24
Utility helicopterMil Mi-17, Agusta-Bell 412 AB
TransportY-12, Beechcraft King Air 200

The Eritrean Air Force (ERAF) is the air service branch of the Eritrean Defence Forces.


The Eritrean Air Force was established shortly after Eritrean War of Independence in 1994. It was first established by Commander Habtezion Hadgu, who used to be an Ethiopian Air force pilot during the Derg regime, and later defected in the late 1980s to the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF), during the Eritrean War of Independence. When the air force was established, Commander Hadgu called many Eritrean officers who formerly served in the Ethiopian Air force, including Col. Abraham (Chief of Staff), Col. Melake, Col. Mesfin, Col. Dr. Efrem and some others, like Major Shekay who came from Lebanon[citation needed]. His deputy was a veteran EPLF fighter, Major General Wedi Kahsay until he was sent to the northern zone as a commander of a regiment in the army. The director of Air Force Intelligence and Administration was also a veteran EPLF fighter, Col. Mussie Lebassi, a member of the 72nd intelligence unit of the EPLF, which was dissolved in 1994. After the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, commander Habtezion and Col. Mussie were later suspended form the air force. Eventually, the air force was taken over by Major General Teklay Habteselasie who is also the commander of the Sawa military training camp.

The make-up of the original force was composed of abandoned Ethiopian Air Force aircraft that were abandoned shortly after Eritrea's War of Independence. Several of the abandoned MiG-21s which were captured from the Ethiopian Air Force are believed to be no longer in service. The main airbase is at Asmara International Airport, which is a combined civil/military base. Serials are sometimes, but not always, worn with 'ERAF' in front of the digits.

The air force has experienced a number of notable defections in recent years. In 2012 two high-ranking officers flew the air force's only luxury airplane out of the country to Saudi Arabia and sought asylum.[2]

Eritrean-Ethiopian War

Expansion of the Eritrean Air Force (ERAF) did not occur until the Eritrean-Ethiopian War in which the two air forces fought for superiority. In a sort of arms race Eritrea responded to Ethiopia's purchase of Su-27s with a purchase of MiG-29s.[3][4] In 2000 the ERAF bought eight Su-25s from Georgia, and six more MiG-29s from Moldova. In 2003 Eritrea also acquired several Su-27s.[5] The Eritrean Air force trained and grew enormously in a short period and was able to challenge the Ethiopian Air Force during the war. Commander Habtezion, along with young Air Force pilots, retaliated in short time after the Ethiopian Air force, led by popular pilot General Bezabh Petros – in captivity during the Eritrean War of Independence and recaptured again in the 1998 war – bombed Asmara.




No. Portrait Name


Term of office Ref.
Took office Left office Time in office
Commander of the Eritrean Air Force
1 Brigadier General

Habtezion Hadgu

1994 January 2003 [7]
2 Colonel Abraham Ogbaselasse ? ?
3 Major General

Teklai Habteselassie

circa 2003 Incumbent [8]


Current inventory

An Eritrean Air Force Mil Mi-17
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Sukhoi Su-27 Russia multirole 1[1] one used for conversion training
Super King Air United States utility 200 1[1]
Harbin Y-12 China transport 4[1]
Bell 412 United States utility 1[1]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility / transport Mi-17/171 6[1]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 6[1]

Due to the lack of technical expertise with Russian aircraft, the Eritrean government maintained a contractual agreement with a Russian parastatal defense company to help upkeep its fleet of Russian manufactured fighter aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27. However this agreement ended since it was in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1907 barring military technical assistance to Eritrea. It is believed that Eritrea's fleet of Russian fighter aircraft is suffering from a chronic lack of maintenance and as a result are rarely flown.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hoyle, Craig (December 2023). World Air Forces 2024. FlightGlobal (Report). London: Flight Global Insight. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  2. ^ Rosen, Armin. "Why Two Eritrean Pilots Went Rogue and Stole Their President's Plane". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Eritrean Republic Air Force Overview". Scramble. Archived from the original on 7 March 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2007.
  4. ^ Habte-Giorgis, Berhe (19 March 1999). "[DEHAI] capturing a helicopter". Dehai. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  5. ^ "Sukhoi Su-27 'Flanker' – Operator List". Retrieved 9 March 2007.
  6. ^ "Eritrea Aircraft". Retrieved 8 June 2006.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Brigadier General Habtezion Hadgu Arrested, Again". Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  8. ^ "ERITREA : A Task-Mixing General - 31/08/2002 - The Indian Ocean Newsletter". Africa Intelligence. 31 August 2002. Retrieved 15 March 2023.

Further reading