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Congress could block aircraft sale to Kenya

Thursday February 23 2017

An Air Tractor AT- 802L aircraft. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

An Air Tractor AT- 802L aircraft. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KEVIN J. KELLEY
By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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FRED MUKINDA
By FRED MUKINDA
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Kenya’s bid to buy Sh41 billion attack aircraft from an American firm was on Wednesday facing an uncertain future after five US legislators asked Congress to stop the deal because it was “inflated”, saying the cost was doubled.

Congressman Tedd Budd is leading four of his colleagues in a bid to block the sale of 12 attack aircraft and two trainer planes to the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), which plans to use them in the war on the Al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia.

In a letter to Kenyan Ambassador to the US Robinson Githae, the lawmakers said they had a “reason to question the acquisition” as the $418 million (Sh41.8 billion) cost should have been much less, by more than $200 (Sh20 billion).

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They added that L3 Technologies, the company contracted to deliver the aircraft, “has no experience converting agricultural aircraft into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft with precision-strike capability”.

The kind of aircraft Kenya is interested in are Air Tractor AT-802L, originally built for agricultural use but remodelled into armed planes for military purposes.

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Mr Budd is fighting to block the purchase as armouring the aircrafts would be undertaken by another company, Iomax USA, which supplied United Arab Emirates military with the same aircraft.

DONATED AIR TRACTORS

The UAE has since donated the Air Tractors to Jordan and replaced them with Archangels, also from Iomax. The UAE operated the Tractors until November 2015, when they were replaced by the first three of 24 Archangels.

The deal in contention, it is worth noting, includes armouring the planes, an arms package and a training programme for Kenyan military personnel.

But Mr Budd, in the letter to Mr Githae, insisted that he believed “Kenya would benefit by exploring its options in regard to this acquisition”.

The letter was also signed by Congressman Sanford Bishop, an African-American Democrat, and Republicans Walter Jones, Jeff Duncan and Mark Meadows.

They are urging their colleagues to block the proposed transaction and also calling on Congress to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kenya’s pending agreement with L3 Technologies.

“One aspect of this process that concerns us,” the US House members added, “is whether any misrepresentations about capabilities have been made.”

A different company with proven experience could provide Kenya with field-tested aircraft and related elements at a far lower price, said the congressmen.

“Spending $418 million of Kenyan national funds on aircraft that could be acquired for over $200 million less from a company that has years of past performance and an existing production line is not an optimal allocation of scarce defence dollars,” Mr Githae was told.

The alternate company is based in the state of North Carolina, represented in the US House by Congressman Budd.

“We ask that the government of Kenya take these facts, in particular the prospect of an ongoing congressional investigation of this sale, under consideration as it decides whether or not to proceed with this arms purchase,” further said the letter.

DROP 2000 BOMBS

Mr James Braid, a senior aide to Congressman Budd, said in an interview on Tuesday that the type of converted agricultural aircraft manufactured by Iomax has been used to drop at least 2,000 bombs on Islamic State targets in Yemen, Syria and Libya.

Those attacks were carried out by the UAE, which purchased 48 of the planes, he said.

Kenya’s proposed deal with L3 has been approved by the State Department, which declined to comment on the allegations by the five Congress members.

The process for finalising a deal under the US Foreign Military Sales programme also involves a 30-day review by Congress. That period came to an end on Sunday without any formal expression of opposition to the proposed Kenya-L3 agreement.

But Mr Braid said the deal can still be blocked if Congress supports Mr Budd’s call for an investigation. The US government’s executive branch, headed by President Donald Trump, could also intervene to halt the sale, Mr Braid noted.

US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec has defended the propriety of the process.

“The process under way is transparent, open and proper,” the US envoy declared in a statement issued on Saturday. “This potential military sale would be carried out wholly in keeping with appropriate laws and regulations.”

No deal would be concluded, Mr Godec added, until the Ministry of Defence receives “a detailed US government document that will clearly describe each item to be purchased and service to be provided along with an estimated cost”.

Kenya can then negotiate a purchase price, he added.

The Kenyan Government will thus have “the opportunity to review the offer line by line and make a final determination on the Air Tractor aircraft package,” Mr Godec stated.