Congress hurdle for $418m Kenya-US arms deal

Monday January 30 2017

Kenyan military officials will in March meet with their United States Department of Defence counterparts to finalise the purchase of $418 million’s worth of military equipment that includes ammunition, machine guns, rocket launchers, and guided bombs mounted on militarised Air Tractors to replace Kenya’s ageing F-5 fighter jets.

The US has approved the foreign military sales order that Nairobi placed as it emerges that the deal could be part of the coalition operations agreement signed when former US president Barack Obama visited the country in 2015.

The military order that also includes technical support services, is now awaiting the approval of the US Congress Department of Defence Committee chaired by Republican Senator John McCain.

The US Department of State in a statement said that the proposed sale is meant to supplement Kenya’s ageing F-5 aircraft, as the Air Tractors will be more efficient and can be pre-positioned much closer to the conflict area than the F-5 fleet.

At $418 million, this could be Kenya’s single-largest weapons purchase, an amount that is more than double the $187 million that the country spent on new stock of arms in the past five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an arms trade monitoring agency.

In the second term of Obama’s administration, Nairobi spent $11 million on arms purchases from the US. In 2015, the country’s total military spending peaked at $954 million up from $819 million the previous year, SIPRI data shows.


Bilateral diplomatic talks

A Department of State spokesperson speaking on condition of anonymity told The EastAfrican that once the Congressional review period has been completed, the US and Kenya will meet to finalise the sale, and settle on the final price and delivery details.

“The final details, delivery timelines, and training related to this sale will remain subject to final bilateral diplomatic discussions between the US and Kenya following the formal notification period. In keeping with US policy, we will refer you to the government of Kenya as to when they submitted their request for this proposed Foreign Military Sale,” the official told The EastAfrican.

It has since emerged that the US Department of State and DoD are conducting a review to determine whether the proposed sale request from Nairobi meets the requirements under the Arms Export Control Act, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and the US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.

“We will provide top-of-the line US-made defence equipment through ‘the total package approach’ — which builds ongoing maintenance, upgrades and training into the sale, ensuring that defence products will be ready and available for many years to come,” the official said.

Kenya sought the 12 Air Tractor AT-802L converted crop-dusters to aid the Kenya Defence Forces in the fight against Al Shabaab. The planes are known for their low-cost surveillance and ground attack capabilities. It is understood that they will be armoured to specifications, meaning that they can take hits from the small arms and Soviet-era anti-aircraft fire that the Somali militants Al Shabaab possess without malfunctioning.

“The Air Tractors are more efficient and able to fly closer to conflict zones than Kenya’s ageing Northrop F-5E fighters. The platform maximises the KDF close air support ability because it is a short-field aircraft capable of using precision munitions and cost effective logistics and maintenance,” states the notice from the Defence Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA), part of DoD.

Shabaab attacks

The revelations came as Kenya troops at Kulbiyow camp in Somalia attacked an Al Shabaab base at the nearby town of Badhadhe. Then on Friday, the Islamist group attacked the Kenyan army base in Kulbiyow.

The number of casualties could not be immediately established, with the Kenya Defence Forces dismissing as propaganda claims by the militants that they had taken 57 lives. The attack came a year after Al Shabaab killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El Adde, an Amisom camp near the border with Kenya.

In the past two years, the militants have attacked army bases operated by various countries under Amisom. In June 2015, they attacked the army base in Leego, manned by Burundi soldiers, killing 54. The same year in September, the Janaale army base, in the Lower Shabelle region, was attacked, and 19 soldiers killed.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said that the Kenyan acquisition of the AT-802 was one of the better choices that could be made at the moment.

“The AT-802 is supposed to be a very low-cost surveillance and ground attack aircraft ideally suited for the kind of operations against the armed Al Shabaab militants in which the Kenyan armed forces are involved. The plane is low cost both in terms of initial procurement costs and flying, maintenance and other operating costs. It does not require a well-equipped air base as it can at least partly be maintained by civilian aircraft maintenance centres,” Mr Wezeman said.

The plane type, though in country specific configurations, have been lately used against insurgents in Yemen, Libya and the Sinai.

According to the State Department, the prime contractor will be L-3 Communications, Platform Integration Division, Waco, Texas. The implementation of this proposed sale requires the assignment of at least five contractor representatives in Kenya.

“There is no deal yet: No contract has been signed; no actual price has been agreed. This may still take months or years or it may never happen. The price will probably be much lower than $418 million. It is also possible that the planes will be partly or completely paid for by the US under Foreign Military Financing as part of the US’s large scale military aid programmes to a number of countries,” Mr Weizeman said.

Drone purchase

The sale comes barely a year after it was announced that Kenya was to purchase a $10 million drone from the US to be used to gather information about terrorists in their hideouts and to stage pre-emptive attacks. The country was to receive the equipment in September last year.

Kenya has been trying to dispose of its ageing F-5 Tiger fighter jet fleet and its intention to purchase F-16 jets from the US has not yet yielded fruit. It is understood that costs and maintenance contracts have seen KDF fail to seal the American deal.

The Kenyan military has since 2013 been upgrading its fleet of fighter jets, military choppers and trainer aircraft. Last month it received six Huey II helicopters worth $106 million from the US for deployment of KDF troops to battlefields. In 2013, the country acquired six Grob G120A basic trainers from Germany, becoming the first African air force to operate the type.

The country has 17 fighter jets, a similar number of fixed-wing attack aircraft, 33 trainer aircraft and 62 helicopters, according to Global Firepower, a military hardware tracking site.