Kenya Defence Forces soldiers launch a rocket-propelled grenade at their camp in Somalia on February 11, 2017 as the war against Al-Shabaab continues. The purchase of military equipment from the US has been approved. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Kenya’s security efforts propped up by arms deal
The United States government has cleared the sale of 12 new American-made light attack helicopter gunships to Kenya as the East African nation continues to build up its military arsenal in the face of mounting security challenges.
The US State Department said it is estimated to be worth $253 million (Sh25 billion) and includes MD530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters, machine gun pod systems, rocket launcher systems and assorted ammunition.
Sources said the US Army Security Assistance Command was expected to send Kenya a formal letter of offer and acceptance (LOA).
Kenya must then decide to accept the terms or not.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a May 2 statement that the latest sale will go towards helping Kenya “modernise its rotorcraft fleet in order to improve border security, undertake operations against Somalia-based jihadist group Al-Shabaab and as a troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).”
DSCA added: “The Defence Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on May 1, 2017.”
The equipment to be supplied include 12 MD530F weaponised helicopters, 24 heavy machinegun pods, 24 HMP400 machine gun pod systems, 24 M260 rocket pods and 4,032 M151 high-explosive rockets.
Others are 1,536 M274 smoke rockets, 400,000 rounds of .50 calibre ammunition and 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 gunships has, however, been recently questioned, according to an interview 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.
“It’s unsafe to fly, the engine is too weak, the tail rotor is defective and it’s not armoured,” Col Qalandari said.
“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. Even the guns are no good.”
But in making the Kenya deal public, DSCA 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 MD530F will also replace Kenya’s ageing MD500 fleet, which constitutes the core of the reconnaissance equipment supporting the ground forces, DSCA 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.
The principal contractor for the planned sale is 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.
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, a global report says.