General Mokgware makes military-analytical case against jet fighters

13 Nov 2017

The national lottery may be months, possibly years away but for now you can bet that MPs will be harping on “fighter jets” – or variations thereof during the current session of parliament. The government has announced plans to acquire jet fighters at a cost of P5 billion but the opposition is vehemently opposed to such plans because they feel that there are more pressing problems. The country’s manufacturing base is ill-formed, hospitals are congested and under-resourced, government’s physical infrastructure is in a profoundly bad state of disrepair, policing resources can’t contain crime, civil servants have gone for years without substantial pay raises and university graduates form a huge part of the unemployed masses. With his background in the Botswana Defence Force and academia, Major General Pius Mokgware does more than advance such arguments. He goes farther to make comparative analysis between the use of jet fighters and helicopters and draws the conclusion that the latter is a much better option. “A helicopter can do things that a fighter can’t do,” says Mokgware who was a member of the BDF high command at the time of his (“forced”) retirement.

“It can take off and land just about anywhere. A helicopter can carry both men and their equipment to a problem area.” The example he gives with regard to the latter point is of a helicopter lifting eight soldiers and Land Rover jeep to an area, offloading both and flying back while the men get in the jeep to execute their mission. “You can’t do that with a jet which cannot land and take off anywhere,” he says, adding that a jet requires sophisticated landing areas and ground support systems which Botswana doesn’t have nearly enough of. “How many airstrips do we have where a jet can land and take off? The other thing is that jets are very expensive to maintain and their fuel is also very expensive.” While acknowledging that jets may use the major airports that Botswana has, Mokgware adds that a problem would arise when a jet has to provide support in areas that don’t have ground support systems.

“The purpose of a jet is to intercept other aircraft as well as to destroy fixed and moving targets,” says the Gabane-Mankgodi MP who, post-retirement, joined the University of Botswana as a security studies lecturer. To his knowledge, no security threat analysis remotely suggests that there is need for Botswana to buy jet fighters that it would use against any neighbouring state. That figures: the dispute over the Sedudu Island showed that Botswana and Namibia have bilateral relations that are robust enough to withstand the most rigorous stress test. With as many Zimbabweans as there are in Botswana, the Zimbabwean army would kill its own people if it went to war with us. Wars are fought for economic reasons and with as much stake as it has in the Botswana economy, South Africa is not about to send its army to destroy its shopping malls and other commercial property.

Botswana has always had very friendly relations with Zambia which, by the way, awarded a lot of university scholarships in 1968 to people who went on to hold very senior positions in the public and private sector. That is our own assessment and it is validated by Mokgware’s statement that presently Botswana has no enemy to use jet fighters against. In expanding the latter point, a security source who wishes to remain anonymous says that the first thing to do before acquiring offensive high-tech military hardware like jet fighters is to carry out a comprehensive threat analysis. Such analysis seeks to answer questions on which country poses a threat to yours, what weaponry it has, what its choice weapon is and whether such weapon is superior to yours and what would effectively counter such weapon. “Based on the external threat, that normally points you in the direction of what to buy. Without a threat analysis, you are just like some spoiled rich kid let loose in a toy shop,” the source says. 

Apparently, jet fighters are themselves over-rated. To further illustrate the battlefield limitations of jets, Mokgware mentions the examples of Afghanistan and Syria where continual bombardment yielded no positive results until boots hit the ground. The interview with the MP happens as there is unprecedented sabre-rattling between the United States and North Korea which some fear, might lead to a nuclear war. While it would be able to inflict damage on the US and its allies in the Asia pacific – possibly on the US mainland itself, North Korea would be no match for America. However, there is analysis that even after US jets reduce North Korea to rubble, there would still be need to puts boots on the ground. As all Hollywood movies show, there is always a helicopter (not jet fighter) hovering above soldiers.

According to Mokgware, the biggest security threat that Botswana faces (poaching) can be tackled not with jet fighters but helicopters. He says that if the army receives intelligence that poachers have sneaked into the country, a helicopter can immediately airlift men and their equipment to the problem area to repel the poachers. Under no circumstances can a jet fighter be used to counter such threat, he adds. However, jet fighters cannot be totally eliminated from the equation but if they are ever required over helicopters, it would be in a completely different time period that is decades away. The analysis of both security experts and economists is that the wars of the 21st century would be fought not over oil or land, but water. Mokgware says that those living in Southern Africa, which is one of the most severely water-stressed regions in the world, should be particularly worried.

As a matter of fact, Ismail Serageldin, an Egyptian who was vice-president of the World Bank, made a chilling analysis about the SADC water situation in 1995 and what it means. “Conflicts are inevitable given that most of the river systems in the region are already utilized and are interconnected ignoring political boundaries. Disputes have already taken place between Botswana and Namibia over abstraction of water from the Etosha or Okavango,” Serageldin said.

The Chobe, a tributary of the Zambezi, has caused tension between Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. By withdrawing from the Paris Accords, US president Donald Trump, may be hastening the day when water becomes so scarce that SADC countries have to take up arms against each other. That is because through his climate change denialism, Trump is implementing policies that will precipitate adverse weather patterns.