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Sh43bn bid for US fighter jets hangs in the balance

The Air Tractor AT- 802L. PHOTO | file
The Air Tractor AT- 802L. PHOTO | file 

Kenya’s plan to acquire a fleet of military aircraft worth Sh43 billion from the United States has been left hanging in the balance after the government failed to enter a binding transaction agreement with the vendors within the set deadline.

The US Congress investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says Kenya failed to commit to the deal for the purchase of 12 militarised Air Tractors alongside rocket launchers, machine guns and guided bombs whose order was first made in December 2015.

Kenya has breached two deadlines, the first in June 2017, after officials cited the August 8, 2017 General Election as reason for not closing the transaction and then missed the September 16 extended deadline.  

The US government yesterday said there had been no updates since mid-last year leaving the deal in abeyance.

“We haven’t had any new updates. I’m not sure if there was any further deadline extension from the one in September,” US Government Accountability Office director for acquisition and sourcing management William Woods said.

Uncertainty

Non-action from the Kenyan government has left the arms deal in a cloud of uncertainty that remains unresolved.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) did not respond to questions on the subject despite KDF spokesman Colonel David Obonyo promising to do so.

To finalise the sale, Kenya was required to sign off several administrative and technical details of the deal, including specifying the number of aircraft it wanted to buy, munitions configurations, timelines for equipment delivery and final costs per equipment.

“The Air Force authorised an extension, giving the Kenyan government until September 16, 2017, to make a determination. As of August 30, 2017, the Kenyan government had not formally agreed to the offer,” GAO says in its September report – when the second deadline expired.

The Kenyan government does not make public its military purchases, effectively leaving taxpayers’ without any means of scrutinising the deals.

The Sh43 billion ($418 million) arms package was first announced in January 2017 and included a dozen militarised Air Tractor AT- 802L and two AT-504 trainer aircraft, alongside other fighting accessories.

It was made public by the US Defence Security Co-operation Agency under its foreign military sales – a programme that helps nations to secure best arms deals from American contractors.

Curiously, the agency, which posts arms deals information on its website, has made no mention of Kenya’s Air Tractors deal since January last year.

Fight Al Shabaab

The weapons stockpile was expected to strengthen Kenya’s military in the fight against the wave of terrorism threat from Somalia’s Al Shabaab terrorists.

Kenya first made its interest to purchase the Air Tractors known in December 2015, but the deal was only made public slightly over a year later in January 2017.

It had first identified US firm Air Tractor as the main contractor for the weaponised crop-dusters but later opted for L-3 Technologies as its prime contractor.

“Air Force, Defence Security Co-operation Agency and Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) officials stated that Kenya conducted its own market research prior to selecting the AT-802L, which included attending air shows and consulting partner nations, and that it considered several aircraft models manufactured by several companies,” the report says.

“According to a SCO official based in Nairobi, the Kenyans value the AT-802L’s simplicity of use, ease of maintenance, and long loiter time.”

Largest weapons purchase

Former US president Barack Obama approved the proposed sale of arms to Kenya and submitted the proposal to Congress a day before he left office in January.

At Sh43 billion, this was set to be Kenya’s single-largest weapons purchase, a reality that had touched off concerns over the government’s priorities in resource allocation.

The manned Air Tractors were primed to modernise the Kenya Air Force’s fire power that is comprised of ageing F-5 fighter jets from Jordan.

“The proposed sale supplements Kenya’s aging F-5 aircraft as it will be more fiscally efficient and able to be pre-positioned much closer to the conflict area than the F-5 fleet,” the US security agency had said earlier.

The Air Tractor aircraft are more accurate in conducting air strikes, linger longer in air space and carry heavier loads compared to Kenya’s current fleet, according to experts.

“Air Tractors are very well suited to complementing KDF operations including cross border incursions, defence of fixed security forces’ facilities within Kenya and support in Somalia,” said Andrew Franklin, a Nairobi-based security expert.

The air tractors also have an edge in the battlefield because they are armoured to continue their mission even when hit by small arms and Soviet-era Anti-Aircraft fire that is commonly found in war-torn Somalia and South Sudan.

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