A US congressman is seeking to halt Kenya's pending $418 million weapons purchase from an American contractor.
Nairobi aims to acquire ammunition, machine guns, rocket launchers, and guided bombs mounted on 12 Air Tractors converted agricultural aircraft intended to bolster the Kenya Defence Forces' campaign against Al-Shabaab.
“My office has received credible allegations of faulty contracting practices, fraud and unfair treatment surrounding this sale,” Congressman Ted Budd said on Tuesday.
In urging his colleagues to block and investigate the deal, the North Carolina Republican said a company in his home state would sell Kenya planes better suited for their envisioned purpose at less than half the quoted price.
Kenyan military officials were set to meet with their United States Department of Defence counterparts in March to finalise the purchase. A US State Department official said no deal or actual price had been agreed yet.
The US Congress must approve the sale of the dozen Air Tractors AT-802L, two trainer planes and related weapons systems manufactured by L-3 Communications, a Texas-based company.
Congressman Budd is charging that the sale contract was awarded to L-3 Communications without competitive bidding, which, he said, “has no experience or track record producing this kind of aircraft.”
IOMAX, a company based in the congressman's own district, can deliver to Kenya a more appropriate and proven type of aircraft for $283 million less than L-3's price, Mr Budd said.
“We need to ensure that Kenya, a long-time ally, is getting a fair deal, and that veteran-owned small businesses in our state aren’t getting shut out of competition because of government favouritism towards giant contractors,” the congressman declared.
He did not elaborate on the purported fraud involved in Kenya's deal with L-3, which has been given clearance by the US State Department.
A military monitoring news organisation based in London reported on Thursday that Kenya may have confused the AT-802L made by L-3 in Texas with an AT-802 aircraft manufactured by IOMAX in North Carolina.
Based on comments from an anonymous source said to be familiar with the deal, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported: “Kenya requested the AT-802L from Air Tractor and its systems-integration partner (and prime) L3 Technologies on the basis of it being an already in service and combat-proven platform, confusing it with the IOMAX-developed AT-802 and the follow-on Archangel Border Patrol Aircraft (BPA) that have been sold to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and regional allies.”
“As of yesterday,” the source added, “Kenya was completely unaware that L3 was not the company who built the 48 [IOMAX] aircraft [delivered to the UAE]."
According to a leaked “background document” cited by Jane's, IOMAX is at present “the only contractor with a manned and weaponised BPA airframe approved for export from the United States.”
A key business advantage for IOMAX, the document adds, is its ability “to provide an integrated, weaponised platform suitable for equipping and firing laser-guided munitions from a purpose-built airframe.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Congressman Budd's charges.