Uganda People's Defence Force

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Military of Uganda
Uganda People's Defence Force emblem.svg
Uganda People's Defence Force emblem
Service branches Land Forces, Air Force, Special Operations Command[1]
Headquarters Kampala, Uganda[2]
President Yoweri Museveni
Defence Minister Dr. Crispus Kiyonga
Chief of Defence Forces General Katumba Wamala (from 23 May 2013)
Military age 18 years of age
Active personnel 45,000 (IISS) ; 2,000(World Bank 2010)[3]
Budget $995million (2014)[4]
Percent of GDP 2.85% (2014)
Foreign suppliers  Russia
 United States
Related articles
History Military history of Uganda:
Operation Entebbe
Uganda–Tanzania War
Ugandan Bush War
Lord's Resistance Army insurgency
First Congo War
Second Congo War
Six Day War (Kisangani)
War in Somalia (2006–2009)
2013 South Sudanese political crisis

The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), previously the National Resistance Army, is the armed forces of Uganda. From 2007 to 2011, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has estimated the UPDF has a total strength of 40,000–45,000, and consists of Land Forces and an Air Wing.[5]

After Uganda achieved independence in October 1962, British officers retained most high-level military commands. Ugandans in the rank and file claimed this policy blocked promotions and kept their salaries disproportionately low. These complaints eventually destabilized the armed forces, already weakened by ethnic divisions. Each post independence regime expanded the size of the army, usually by recruiting from among people of one region or ethnic group, and each government employed military force to subdue political unrest.


The origins of the present Ugandan armed forces can be traced back to 1902, when the Uganda Battalion of the King's African Rifles was formed. Ugandan soldiers fought as part of the King's African Rifles during the First World War and Second World War.[citation needed] As Uganda moved toward independence, the army stepped up recruitment, and the government increased the use of the army to quell domestic unrest. The army was becoming more closely involved in politics, setting a pattern that continued after independence. In January 1960, for example, troops were deployed to Bugisu and Bukedi districts in the east to quell political violence. In the process, the soldiers killed twelve people, injured several hundred, and arrested more than 1,000. A series of similar clashes occurred between troops and demonstrators, and in March 1962 the government recognized the army's growing domestic importance by transferring control of the military to the Ministry of Home Affairs.


On 9 October 1962 Uganda became independent from the United Kingdom, with 4th Battalion, King's African Rifles, based at Jinja, becoming the Uganda Rifles.[6] The traditional leader of the Baganda, Edward Mutesa, became president of Uganda.[7] Milton Obote, a northerner and longtime opponent of autonomy for the southern kingdoms including Buganda, was prime minister. Mutesa recognized the seriousness of the rank-and-file demands for Africanising the officer corps, but he was more concerned about potential northern domination of the military, a concern that reflected the power struggle between Mutesa and Obote. Mutesa used his political power to protect the interests of his Baganda constituency, and he refused to support demands for Africanization of the officer ranks.

On 1 August 1962 the Uganda Rifles became the Uganda Army.[8] The armed forces more than doubled, from 700 to 1,500, and the government created 2nd Battalion stationed at the northeastern town of Moroto, on 14 November 1963. Omara-Otunnu wrote in 1987 that "a large number of men had been recruited into the Army to form this new battalion, and.. the new recruits were not given proper training" because the Army was already heavily committed in its various operations.[9]

In January 1964, following a mutiny by Tanganyikan soldiers in protest over their own Africanisation crisis, unrest spread throughout the Uganda Army. On 22 January 1964, soldiers of the 1st Battalion in Jinja mutinied to press their demands for a pay raise and a Ugandan officer corps. They also detained their British officers, several noncommissioned officers, and the minister of interior, Felix Onama, who had arrived in Jinja to represent government views to the rank and file. Obote appealed for British military support, hoping to prevent the mutiny from spreading to other parts of the country. About 450 British soldiers from 2nd Battalion, The Scots Guards and Staffordshire Regiment (elements of the 24th Infantry Brigade) responded, surrounded the First Battalion barracks at Jinja, seized the armory, and quelled the mutiny. The government responded two days later by dismissing several hundred soldiers from the army, several of whom were subsequently detained.

Although the authorities later released many of the detained soldiers and reinstated some in the army, the mutiny marked a turning point in civil-military relations. The mutiny reinforced the army's political strength. Within weeks of the mutiny, the president's cabinet also approved a military pay raise retroactive to 1 January 1964, more than doubling the salaries of those in private to staff-sergeant ranks. Additionally, the government raised defense allocations by 400 percent. The number of Ugandan officers increased from eighteen to fifty-five. Two northerners, Shaban Opolot and Idi Amin Dada, assumed command positions in the Uganda Rifles and later received promotions to Brigadier and commander in chief, and army chief of staff, respectively.

Following the 1964 mutiny, the government remained fearful of internal opposition. Obote moved the army headquarters approximately 54 miles (87 km) from Jinja to Kampala. He also created a secret police force, the General Service Unit (GSU) to bolster security. Most GSU employees guarded government offices in and around Kampala, but some also served in overseas embassies and other locations throughout Uganda. When British training programs ended, Israel started training Uganda's army, air force, and GSU personnel. Several other countries also provided military assistance to Uganda.

Decalo writes that:[10]

..using classic 'divide and rule' tactics, he [Obote] appointed different foreign military missions to each battalion, scrambled operational chains of command, played the police off against the army, encouraged personal infighting between his main military "proteges" and removed from operational command of troops officers who appeared unreliable or too authoritative."

When Congolese aircraft bombed the West Nile villages of Paidha and Goli on 13 February 1965, President Obote again increased military recruitment and doubled the army's size to more than 4,500. Units established included a third battalion at Mubende, a signals squadron at Jinja, and an antiaircraft detachment.[11] On 1 July 1965 six units were formed: a brigade reconnaissance, an army ordnance depot (seemingly located at Magamaga),[12] a brigade signals squadron training wing, a records office, a pay and pensions office, and a Uganda army workshop.[13]

Tensions rose in the power struggle over control of the government and the army and over the relationship between the army and the Baganda people. Shortly after February 1966, Amin was appointed Chief of the Army and Air Force Staff, while Brigadier Opolot was transferred to the Ministry of Defence as Chief of the Defence Staff. On 24 May 1966, Obote ousted Mutesa, assumed his offices of president and commander in chief, suspended the 1962 constitution, and consolidated his control over the military by eliminating several rivals. In October 1966 Opolot was dismissed from the army and detained under the emergency regulations then in force.

At about the same time, Obote abrogated the constitution, revoked Buganda's autonomous status, and instructed the Army to attack the Kabaka's palace, forcing the Kabaka to flee. Elections were cancelled. Political loyalties rather than military skill became critical amongst both officers and men.[14] Many educated Southern officers were court-martialled or dismissed in 1966 and 1967, and ethnicity became the key factor in recruitment and promotions.


In 1970, the International Institute for Strategic Studies assessed the Ugandan armed forces to consist of 6,700 personnel, constituting an Army of 6,250 with two brigade groups, each of two battalions, plus an independent infantry battalion, with some Ferret armoured cars, and BTR-40 and BTR-152 armoured personnel carriers, plus an air arm of 450 with 12 Fouga Magister armed jet trainers, and seven MiG-15s and MiG-17s.[15]

In January 1971, Amin and his followers within the army seized power in the 1971 Ugandan coup d'etat.[16]

Shortly after the expulsion of Asians in 1972, Obote launched a small invasion across the Tanzanian border into southwestern Uganda. His small army contingent in twenty-seven trucks set out to capture the southern Ugandan military post at Masaka but instead settled down to await a general uprising against Amin, which did not occur. A planned seizure of the airport at Entebbe by soldiers in an allegedly hijacked East African Airways passenger aircraft was aborted when Obote's pilot blew out the aircraft's tires and it remained in Tanzania. Amin was able to mobilize his more reliable Malire Mechanised Regiment and expel the invaders.

In 1976, during Operation Entebbe the Israeli military destroyed 12 MiG-21s and three MiG-17s based at Entebbe Airport in order to prevent pursuit.[17]

In 1979, before the Uganda-Tanzania War, the Ugandan armed forces were reported, by the IISS, as consisting of 20,000 land forces personnel, with two four-battalion brigades and five other battalions of various types, plus a training regiment.[18] There were a total of 35 T-34, T-55, and M-4 Sherman medium tanks. An air arm was 1,000 strong with 21 MiG-21 and 10 MiG-17 combat aircraft. The IISS noted that the Ugandan armed forces collapsed in the face of the Tanzanian onslaught and the serviceable aircraft were removed to Tanzania.

Soldier in an internally displaced persons camp in northern Uganda

After the 1977 Uganda-Tanzania War, fighters available to the new government numbered only the fewer than 1,000 troops who had fought alongside the Tanzanian People's Defence Force (TPDF) to expel Amin. The army was back to the size of the original army at independence in 1962. Titularly, Colonel Tito Okello served as army commander and Colonel David Oyite Ojok as chief of staff,[19] leading the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).

But in 1979, in an attempt to consolidate support for the future, such leaders as Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Major General (later Chief of Staff) David Oyite Ojok began to enroll thousands of recruits into what were rapidly becoming their private armies.[7] Museveni's 80 original soldiers grew to 8,000; Ojok's original 600 became 24,000. When then-President Godfrey Binaisa sought to curb the use of these militias, which were harassing and detaining political opponents, he was overthrown in a military coup on 10 May 1980. The coup was engineered by Ojok, Museveni, and others acting under the general direction of Paulo Muwanga, Obote's right-hand man and chair of the Military Commission. The TPDF was still providing necessary security while Uganda's police force—which had been decimated by Amin—was rebuilt, but Nyerere refused to help Binaisa retain power. Many Ugandans claimed that although Nyerere did not impose his own choice on Uganda, he indirectly facilitated the return to power of his old friend and ally, Milton Obote. In any case, the Military Commission headed by Muwanga effectively governed Uganda during the six months leading up to the national elections of December 1980.

After the Museveni government was formed in 1986, a number of key Rwanda Patriotic Front personnel became part of the National Resistance Army that became Uganda's new national armed forces. Fred Rwigyema was appointed deputy minister of defense and deputy army commander-in-chief, second only to Museveni in the military chain of command for the nation. Paul Kagame was appointed acting chief of military intelligence. Other Tutsi refugees were highly placed: Peter Baingana was head of NRA medical services and Chris Bunyenyezi was the commander of the 306th Brigade,[20] while Adam Wasswa was the Commander of the 316th Brigade at Moroto in northern Uganda, Steven Ndugutse was commander of the 79th Battalion, and Sam Kaka was Military Police Commander.[citation needed] Tutsi refugees formed a disproportionate number of NRA officers for the simple reason that they had joined the rebellion early and thus had accumulated more experience.[20]

Uganda People's Defence Force

The National Resistance Army was renamed the Uganda People's Defence Force following the enactment of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. UPDF's primary focus was the conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group operating in the country's northern region. Since March 2002 UPDF has been granted permission to carry out operating against LRA bases across the border in the Sudan, and these raids, collectively known as Operation Iron Fist, have resulted in the repatriation of many abducted children being held by the rebels as child soldiers or sex slaves. However the LRA fled Uganda and were pushed deep into the jungles of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (principally Orientale Province).

The UPDF has also been the subject of controversy for having a minimum age for service of 13.[21] Many international organizations have condemned this as being military use of children. This has created an image problem for the UPDF and may have impacted the international aid Uganda receives. Western nations have sent a limited level of military aid to Uganda.[22] "Between 1990 and 2002, the army payroll had at least 18,000 ghost soldiers, according to a report by General David Tinyefuza."[23]

The problem continued in 2003, when there was a severe problem of 'ghost' soldiers within the UPDF.[24] As of 2008, these personnel problems has been exacerbated by the surge of UPDF troops resigning to go to work with the Coalition Forces in Iraq.[25] They mostly work as an additional guard force at control points and dining facilities, for example.

Prior to 2000, the United States armed forces trained together with the UPDF as part of the African Crisis Response Initiative. This cooperation was terminated in 2000 as a result of Uganda's incursion into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Following the June 2003 UPDF withdrawal of troops from the DRC, limited nonlethal military assistance has restarted. The UPDF participates in the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance programme with the United States.

After several interventions in the Congo, the UPDF was involved in a further incursion there from December 2008, stretching into February 2009, against the Lord's Resistance Army in the Garamba area. UPDF special forces and artillery, supported by aircraft, were joined by the Congolese FARDC and elements of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Called 'Operation Lightning Thunder' by the UPDF, it was commanded by Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, commander of 3rd Division.[26]


Artist's rendition of a Ugandan T-55 tank, serving in AMISOM

The UPDF currently has more than 6,000 soldiers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).[27] The force commander in 2009, Ugandan Major General Nathan Mugisha, was wounded in a car bomb attack on 17 September 2009 which left nine soldiers dead, [28] including his second in command the Burundian Major General Juvenal Niyoyunguruza.[29] The current force commander is the Ugandan Lieutenant General Andrew Gutti.[30]

The United States has provided extensive training for UPDF contingents headed for Somalia. In the first half of 2012, Force Recon Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) trained soldiers from the Uganda People's Defense Force.[31] In addition, a significant amount of support to AMISOM has been provided by private companies. "Bancroft Global Development, headquartered on Washington's Embassy Row, employs about 40 South African and European trainers who work with [AMISOM's] Ugandan and Burundian troops.[32] Bancroft director Michael Stock told The EastAfrican that these mentors are embedded with AMISOM units in Mogadishu and southern and central Somalia. They coach commanders on how to predict and defeat the tactics which foreign fighters bring from outside East Africa and teach to al-Shabaab." Bancroft "does not receive funding directly from the US government but is instead paid by AMISOM, which is then reimbursed by the State Department for these outlays." The Associated Press reported that Bancroft has been paid $12.5 million for its work in Somalia since 2008.

On 12 August 2012, two Ugandan Mil Mi-24s flying from Entebbe across Kenya to Somalia crashed in rugged terrain in Kenya. They were found two days later, burned out, with no likely survivors from the 10 Ugandan servicemen on board the two helicopters. Another aircraft from the same flight crashed on Mount Kenya and all seven Ugandan servicemen onboard were rescued a day later. The aircraft were supporting AMISOM in the ongoing Somali Civil War. An accompanying Mil Mi-17 transport helicopter landed without problems in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa near the Somali border for a scheduled refuelling stop.[33]

In August 2014, the Somali government-led Operation Indian Ocean was launched to cleanup the remaining insurgent-held pockets in the countryside, with the AMISOM contingents including the UPDF providing support.[34] On 1 September 2014, a U.S. drone strike carried out as part of the broader mission killed Al-Shabaab leader Moktar Ali Zubeyr.[35] U.S. authorities hailed the raid as a major symbolic and operational loss for Al-Shabaab.[36] According to Pentagon spokesperson Admiral John Kirby, the Ugandan AMISOM forces had informed U.S. intelligence as to where Godane and other Al-Shabaab leaders were meeting and provided information on a convoy of vehicles in which he was traveling.[37] Al-Shabaab subsequently threaten an attack in Uganda for the UPDF contingent's role within AMISOM and the strike on Godane.[38][39] The Ugandan security services, with the assistance of the U.S. military and intelligence, also identify and foiled a major Al-Shabaab terrorist attack in the Ugandan capital Kampala. They recovered suicide vests, other explosives, and small arms and detained Al-Shabaab operatives.[40][41][42]

Land forces

Ugandan land forces on parade.

As of June 2013, land forces commander now appears to be Major General David Muhoozi.[43] In 2012, Muhoozi was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed Commander of the Air Defence Unit in Nakasongola. He previously served as the Brigade Commander for the mechanised brigade in Masaka.[44]

David Muhoozi should not be confused with Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the president's son and now head of the Special Forces Command.[1] Previous to his appointment as Commander Defence Forces, General Edward Katumba Wamala served as commander of land forces.[2] General Wamala was among military cadets sent to Monduli Military Academy in Tanzania in 1979 (now the TPDF's Tanzania Military Academy, which Ugandan cadets still attend) and served as Inspector General of Police until 2005. General Wamala succeeded General Aronda Nyakairima as Chief of Defence Force.

In August 2012, Major General Fredrick Mugisha, previously in charge of the African Union Mission in Somalia was appointed as the new Joint Chief of Staff, a position left by Major General Robert Rusoke, the newly appointed Ugandan Ambassador to South Sudan.[45] Brigadier Charles Angina, former General Court Martial Chairperson, was promoted to Major General and appointed Chief of Staff Land Forces.

Army operational organization

The IISS Military Balance 2007 estimates that the land forces include five divisions (each with up to five brigades), one armoured and one artillery brigade. The divisions are as follows:

  • 1st Division at Kakiri in Wakiso District
  • 2nd Division, HQ Makenke Barracks, Mbarara. Brigadier Peter Elwelu took command in a ceremony on 17 July 2013. He had been appointed in June 2013.[43] In late 2001, soldiers' wives resisted the Chief of Staff Brig. James Kazini's order to quit the barracks. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Phinehas Katirima said, "The army decided to decongest the barracks which was built for about 1,000 soldiers, but now has over 10,000 people."[46]
  • 3rd Division (HQ Moroto)
  • 4th Division with its headquarters at Gulu,[47] James Kazini served with this division in 1996-99.
  • 5th Division at Pader. Created in August 2002.[48] Reported at the time to comprise three brigades, and appears as of 2013 to include 401 Brigade.[49]

Before 2013, the 3rd Division headquarters was reported by afdevinfo to be at Mbale.[50]

The armoured brigade appears to be at Masaka.[51]

The 2nd Division, according to, includes the divisional headquarters at Mbarara, the 17th, 69th, 73rd, and 77th Battalions, the Rwenzori Mountain Alpine Brigade, possibly another Alpine brigade, and the 3rd Tank Battalion, and has been heavily involved with border operations since the Congo Civil War began in the 1990s.

Current army equipment

Origin Type Acquired In service Notes
T-90  Russia Main Battle Tank 100[52] 44[52] T-90S variant; 56 on order.[52]
T-54/55  Soviet Union Main Battle Tank 199[52] 173[53][54]
T-34  Soviet Union Medium Tank 10[52] --
M4 Sherman  United States Medium Tank 12[52] 3[55]
PT-76  Soviet Union Light Tank 50[52] 20[53]
BMP-2  Ukraine Infantry Fighting Vehicle 31[52] Sourced from Ukraine.[52]
BTR-80  Soviet Union Armoured Personnel Carrier 32[52] BTR-80A.[52]
BTR-60  Soviet Union Armoured Personnel Carrier 20[53] 12[56]
BTR-152  Soviet Union Armoured Personnel Carrier 74[52] --
OT-64 SKOT  Czechoslovakia Armoured Personnel Carrier 36[52] 4[53]
Mamba  South Africa MRAP 40[57]
RG-31 Nyala  South Africa MRAP 15[52]
Buffel  South Africa MRAP 51[56][52]
Casspir  South Africa MRAP 42[52] For peacekeeping missions.[58]
Eland Mk7  South Africa Armoured Car 40[56]
Alvis Saladin  United Kingdom Armoured Car 36[59] --
Ferret  United Kingdom Scout Car 15[52] -- Some sources report up to 60.[53]
BRDM-1  Soviet Union Scout Car 98[52] --
BRDM-2  Soviet Union Scout Car 100[52] --
SAMIL  South Africa Utility Vehicle 450[60]
Chubby  South Africa Mine Detection Vehicle 1[53]
D-30  Soviet Union Howitzer 9[52]
M-30  Soviet Union Howitzer 18[52] -- Sourced from Libya.[52]
Cardom  Israel Heavy Mortar 18[52]
ATMOS 2000  Israel Self-propelled Howitzer 6[52]
BM-21 Grad  Soviet Union Multiple Rocket Launcher 20[52]
RM-70  Czechoslovakia Multiple Rocket Launcher 6[52] Purchased 2001-2002.[52]

UPDF Air Wing

There are conflicting reports on what aircraft the Air Wing has in service. Major General Samuel Turyagyenda is the current commander.[61] Lieutenant General S.B. Owesigire previously commanded. Mr. Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, the central bank governor, threw the Ugandan shilling into its worst volatility in 17 years, when he told the Financial Times that President Museveni ignored technical advice to raid Uganda’s meagre foreign exchange reserves to buy new Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft.[62]

Current air force inventory

Ugandan Bell 206 helicopter
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-21 Soviet Union fighter 5[63]
Sukhoi Su-30 Russia multirole Su-30MMK 8 4 on order[63]
Cessna 208 United States utility /surveillance 2[64] donated by the U.S.[65]
Bell 206 United States utility 7[63]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility 10[63]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-35 6[66]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 6[63]
SF.260 Italy trainer 4[63]

Paramilitary forces

The IISS Military Balance 2007 says there are 1,800 paramilitary personnel, which include the Marines—Uganda's naval force—with 400 personnel, and eight riverine patrol craft, all of less than 100 tonnes. There is also an 800-strong Uganda Police Force Air Wing with one Bell JetRanger, and a 600-strong Border Defence Unit equipped only with small arms.

The UDPF Marine Wing has 400 personnel, and eight riverine patrol craft, all of less than 100 tonnes. Its main mission is to patrol Lake Victoria and the Nile River. Colonel Micheal Nyarwa is reported as the current commander.[citation needed]


During the late 1980s, Uganda's most tragic military-related problem was the large number of children, mostly orphans, who had attached themselves to the army. The government estimated that there were several thousand kadogos (child soldiers), most of whom were under the age of sixteen. Within days of Museveni's seizing control of the government, his press office announced that kadogos would be disarmed and enrolled in schools designated for that purpose. The first of these, the Mbarara Kadogo School, opened in February 1988, enrolling about 800 pupils between ages five and eighteen, according to the school's commander. An important government aim was to deter these pupils from joining anti-NRA rebel groups still fighting against government control. By 1990 kadogos were no longer evident in regular army units.

Military training establishments

As of February 2011, Uganda maintains the followings military training institutions:[67]

Military training establishments

As of February 2011, Uganda maintains the followings military training institutions:[67]


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  • Library of Congress Uganda Country Study (significant sections copied under U.S. copyright law.)
  • Thomas P. Ofcansky. "The First Obote Regime: The Growth of the Military". Uganda: A country study (Rita M. Byrnes, editor). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (December 1990).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  • Amii Omara-Otunnu, Politics and the Military in Uganda 1890-1985, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987

Further reading

  • One way street, Africa Confidential, Volume 41 No 9. Deep rivalries in the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces have been the main reason for the UPDF’s failure to defeat the LRA since the late 1980s.
  • Max Delany,and Jeremy Binnie, 'Triple helicopter crash is major blow for Uganda, AMISOM,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 22 August 2013, 10.
  • Rune Hjalmar Espeland, and Stina Petersen (2010). The Ugandan army and its war in the North. Forum for Development Studies. 37(2): 193- 215
  • Lee, J. M. (1969), African Armies and Civil Order, International Institute for Strategic Studies/Chatto and Windus, 1969, 77, 105.
  • Ngoga, Pascal. "Uganda: The National Resistance Army." African guerrillas (1998): 91-106.
  • Gerard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War: the 'Congolese' Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, Hurst & Co., London, 2009, ISBN 978-1-85065-523-7 (p. 88, 186, 197)
  • "U.S. relies on contractors in Somalia conflict," New York Times, 10 August 2011
  • Rocky Williams, "National defence reform and the African Union." SIPRI Yearbook 2004: 231-249.

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