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Machine guns, rocket launchers in list of Kenya’s Sh43bn US arms plan

The US State Department has lifted the lid on the weapons package that Kenya seeks to buy from America at a cost of Sh43 billion.

Kenya has ordered machines guns, rocket launchers and guided bombs in addition to the 12 militarised Air Tractors and two trainer aircraft.

The security agency had initially generalised the arms as “an unspecified weapons package” without providing further details.

“Armaments included in this proposed sale include machine guns, rocket launchers, and guided bombs mounted to the aircraft,” the US State Department spokesperson David McKeeby replied to the Business Daily.

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 last Friday.

If approved by Congress, the arms deal will see Nairobi acquire the Air Tractors that are capable of launching air to ground missiles with precision.

The planned acquisition aims to strengthen Kenya’s army in the war against Somali-based Al-Shabaab terrorists.

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

According to Bloomberg, an Air Tractor plane costs about $2.5 million (Sh257 million) even before weapons systems are included.

Based on these estimates, the 12 air tractors and two trainer jets could cost Kenya a total of Sh3.6 billion, before installing the arms systems.

This means the bulk of the planned Sh43 billion expenditure package will be on military hardware like machine guns, rocket launchers and guided bombs.

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

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 Kenya Defence Forces (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.

He said that the KDF is in desperate need of modern aircraft — fixed wing and rotary — to provide close air support (CAS) to security force personnel on the ground who are in contact with Al Shabaab militants.

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.

Besides, they can linger on station for up to six hours awaiting targets to be identified and briefing from troops on the ground, according to Mr Franklin.

“It’s important to note that at this time, this remains a proposed sale, and the numbers and costs listed represent a maximum possible range,” said Mr McKeeby of the US State Department.

“Once this proposed sale has been notified to Congress, the United States and the Kenyan government will finalise all required administrative and technical details of the sale, including how many aircraft and items of equipment they ultimately intend to buy, the precise munitions configurations, when the equipment will be delivered, and final unit prices.”


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