The United States government has cleared the sale of 12 new America-made light attack helicopter gunships to the Kenyan government as the East African nation continues to build up its military arsenal in the face of mounting security challenges.
The US State Department said the deal, which has been approved despite opposition to an earlier weapons purchase deal Kenya had sought from the US government, is estimated to be worth $253 million (Sh26.08 billion) and includes the provision of MD 530F ‘cayuse warrior’ light attack helicopters, 24 HMP 400 machine gun pod systems, 24 M260 rocket launcher systems, and assorted ammunition.
The Business Daily has learned that the US Army Security Assistance Command is now expected to send Kenya a formal letter of offer and acceptance (LOA).
Kenya must then make a decision whether or not to accept the terms.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement dated May 2 that the latest sale will go towards helping Kenya “modernise its rotorcraft fleet in order to improve border security, undertake operations against Somali-based jihadist group, Al-Shabaab, and as a troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).”
“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Kenya for MD 530 aircraft. The estimated cost is $253 million. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on May 1, 2017,” the notice said.
The list of equipment to be provided includes 12 MD-530F weaponised helicopters, 24 heavy machinegun pods, 24 M260 rocket pods, 4,032 M151 high-explosive rockets, 1,536 M274 smoke rockets, 400,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition as well as communications/navigation equipment.
Kenya will also get logistics support, training and technical assistance, spare parts and field service support and special assigned airlift mission (SAAM) flight delivery under the deal.
The helicopter in the proposed sale has been used for a similar mission scope by the Afghan Air Force.
The efficacy of the American-made light attack helicopter gunships has, however, been recently questioned, according to an interview published in the New York Times.
The influential publication quoted Afghanistan’s most decorated pilot, Colonel Qalandar Shah Qalandari, saying, among other things, that the new helicopters cannot reach areas where Taliban insurgents operate from since it cannot cross the mountain ranges that surround Kabul, and that the aircraft is also dangerous to operate.
“It’s unsafe to fly, the engine is too weak, the tail rotor is defective and it’s not armoured. If we go down after the enemy we’re going to have enemy return fire, which we can’t survive. If we go up higher, we can’t visually target the enemy,” he said. “Even the guns are no good.”
But in making the Kenya sale deal public, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said the proposed sale will advance Kenya’s efforts to conduct “scout and attack rotary wing aircraft operations in support of their Amisom mission.”
The MD 530F will also replace Kenya’s aging MD500 fleet, which currently constitutes the core of the reconnaissance equipment supporting the country’s ground forces, the agency added.
“This sale will significantly enhance the Kenyan Army’s modernisation efforts and increase interoperability with the US Armed Forces and other partners in the region,” the agency said, adding that a strong national defence and dedicated military force will assist Kenya in its efforts to maintain stability in East Africa.
The principal contractor for the planned sale is identified as MD Helicopters, Mesa, Arizona.
Execution of the proposed sale will require the assignment of approximately 12 additional contractor representatives for a period of 12 months, it said.
The notice of a potential sale is required by US law and does not mean the sale has been concluded, it added.
Kenya has consistently upgraded its military hardware in recent years, raising its spending on the armed forces to Sh96 billion last year to stand above those of neighbouring Ethiopia and Uganda combined, according to a recent global report.
Nairobi spent $933 million (or nearly Sh100 billion) on its military last year, a 10.5 per cent growth from $844 million (Sh86.9 billion) in 2015 — a move that is seen as having the potential to upset the military power balance in the region.
In February this year Kenya’s bid to procure $418 million (Sh43.3 billion) worth of weapons from a US contractor stalled in the face of opposition from a US congressman who sought to block the deal citing faulty contracting practices, fraud and unfair treatment surrounding the sale.
US Congressman Ted Budd urged his colleagues to block and investigate the deal, claiming a company in his home state would sell Kenya planes better suited to their envisioned purpose at less than half the quoted price.