While Tigray regional forces, in alliance with Oromo Liberation Army fighters, are heading towards Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, debate intensifies about TDF’s anti-aircraft capabilities. Is TDF in a position to hit flights landing at or flying from Bole airport in Addis Ababa?
To measure the likelihood of TDF’s attack on a flight from Bole airport in Addis Ababa, we need to evaluate two things:
i). How close are Tigray forces to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital?
ii). What are TDF’s known anti-aircraft capabilities?
According to the latest reports from the ground, Tigray forces are in the North Shewa Zone of the Amhara region. They took control of North Shewa’s Shewa Robit town on Sunday. Addis Ababa is around 200 km away from Shewa Robit town. Though they are advancing towards Addis Ababa from multiple directions, we can say that Tigray forces are around 200 km away from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), TDF’s ally, has a small presence close to Addis Ababa in the Oromia region, but OLA does not have any known anti-aircraft weapons.
Does TDF have any anti-aircraft weapon with a range of around 200 km? Tigray forces have 4 types of anti-aircraft weapons:
- Anti-aircraft guns ( Russian ZU-23-2 ) with 2.5 km maximum range
- MANPADS (MAN PORTABLE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS) with a detection range of 10 km and an effective hitting range of around 6 km.
- S-75 surface to air missiles with 45 km hitting range
- S-125 surface to air missiles with 35 km range
Both S-125 and S-75 have not been seen deployed anywhere in the Amhara region. At least one S-125 site has been seen activated near Mekelle city of Tigray in satellite images shared in October 2021.
It means TDF’s S-75 and S-125 are nowhere deployed close to the place where fighting is happening. These missiles will have to be shifted from Mekelle city to the Amhara region for their use against Bole airport in Addis Ababa. It can be safely concluded that Tigray forces fighting in the North Shewa Zone of the Amhara region possess only ZU 23-2 and MANPADS. It means the effective hitting range of TDF’s anti-aircraft weapons at this point of time is around 10 km, while TDF is around 200 km away from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Though Tigray forces are in no position to hit any flight on Bole airport of Addis Ababa precisely, TDF could be in possession of long-range rockets, according to some estimates. In November 2020, Tigray forces fired long-range rockets from Tigray and hit the Eritrean capital Asmara.
If Tigray forces have long-range rockets, they can hit Addis Ababa airport or its surroundings to create panic. Still, at this point, Tigray regional forces are not in a position to precisely hit Addis Ababa airport flights.