Uganda’s President and Commander in Chief of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) H.E Gen Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Tuesday presided over the commissioning into flight of the first overhauled Russian helicopter (MI 24) on the African continent South of the Sahara.
The ceremony happened at Proheli International Services Limited MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) Plant headquarters in Nakasongola district.
Speaking to distinguished guests from the Russian embassy in Uganda, visiting delegations from Russia, Proheli staff and UPDF fraternity, President Museveni congratulated Proheli for developing and bringing the facility to Uganda.
He said: “Where there’s demand, there’s an opportunity for business, and demand for Russian defense products in Africa has existed since 1955.”
President Museveni noted that Russia has partnered with Uganda for the last 100 years and has never harmed us, hence the need to re-establish and strengthen existing contacts with Russia through such MRO facilities.
“I saw the potential of convergence of interests. We have no problem with Russia and vice-versa,” said President Museveni.
He condemned rivalry since we have enough problems to solve as a human race.
He then called for continuous cooperation and promotion of interests based on building capabilities for the continuity of the human race.
President Museveni further stressed that the maintenance, overhauling and upgrading of Russian helicopters in Uganda is a correct idea since it enhances the generation of local capacity, lowers labor costs, promotes defence cooperation and facilitates economic growth as income is generated from other countries who attempt to overhaul from Uganda.
He also appealed to Proheli to include the overhaul of the Sukhoi aircraft to their facility, adding that the latter will benefit from the broad African market using both MI 23 and Sukhoi aircraft since it is nearer than transporting the spoilt aircraft to Russia.
The President concluded by urging Russia to woe more investors to Uganda in other fields other than defence.
“I call upon Russia to get us more investors and there should be no limit to our cooperation. I thank the Russian Government for supporting us and building the M1 24 facility,” he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs Hon Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja commended the President for building a modern and productive army.
“Overhauling helicopters in Uganda is a great achievement and saves the country a lot of money,” he noted, adding that the dream of growing the defence industry has come to fruition with the evidenced helicopter overhaul.
Speaking at the same commissioning, the Chief of Defence Forces Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, noted that the overhaul is a landmark achievement in Uganda’s aviation industry since it is the first helicopter to be overhauled South of the Sahara.
He added that the facility reflects the workability of the tripartite doctrine, which demands that any assistance given must aim at building internal capacity to acquire self-reliance as guided by the President.
The Chief of Staff – Air Force Brig Gen David Gonyi on behalf of the Commander Air Force Lt Gen Charles Okidi, remarked that the facility will improve on the turnaround time taken to repair a helicopter (instead of 3yrs it took 1 year and 3months to overhaul M1 24), reduce the cost of transporting equipment, generate revenue, provide employment to Ugandans (about 200 local workers currently s) and facilitate industrial training for Air Force personnel, among others.
He also noted that given the changing nature of threats, the commissioned overhauled and upgraded MI 24 can now operate both day and night and will be used to curb the persistent cattle rustling and during other operations against terrorists in the region.
“With this facility, serviceability in air forces will increase and thus increase on combat readiness,” he explained.
The Managing Director of National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), the production and commercial arm of UPDF which entered a joint venture with Proheli to Overhaul the MI 24 helicopter, Lt Gen James Mugira lauded UPDF fraternity and Proheli for a job well done since the facility enables technological transfer, saves resources, reduces lead time, and offers research opportunities.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Proheli Valerii Copeichin, the facility intends to be a one-stop – center for helicopter MRO, grow local human resources, manufacture electronic software for helicopters, and intends to manufacture a Ugandan-made helicopter using local manpower.
“We are determined to rock together with UPDF to stabilize Uganda’s defence,” he promised, adding the overhaul of Sukhoi aircraft will soon be an addition to the Nakasongola facility.
The commissioning ceremony was also graced by the attendance of the MODVA Permanent Secretary Mrs. Rosette Byengoma, Commander Land Forces Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga, Commander Reserve Forces Lt Gen Charles Otema, CEO Maj Gen Sabiti Muzeyi, and the acting Chief of Staff Land Force Maj Gen Jack Bakasumba, among other UPDF Officers and Militants.