Pick of Fighter Jet suitors court BDF

21 Aug 2017

Botswana is under pressure from a pick of fighter jet manufacturing countries that are scrambling to get their hands on the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) P 2 billion budget allocation.   South Korea’s Korea Space Industries (KAI) is reportedly lobbying its government to help them secure the lucrative multi- billion jet fighter deal from Botswana, causing unease in Swedish Gripen fighter manufacturers Saab, secret documents passed to the Sunday Standard suggests.   The documents prepared for the BDF by KAI titled “FA-50 for the Botswana Defence Force: The right choice for the future” dated May 2017 woos the BDF to give preference to FA-50 over other fighter jets manufactures. A month after Swedish Gripen fighter jet manufacture Saab got wind of the presentations by KAI, it also weighed in on its government to invite President Ian Khama to come to Sweden.  

President Khama honoured the initiation went on a three-day official visit to Sweden two months ago at the invitation of the prime minister of Sweden, Stefan Lofven.  Documents, passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that, senior government officials among them, former Justice Defence and Security Minister Ramadeluka Seretse, his predecessor Shaw Kgathi and members of the BDF high command have had a string of to and fro meetings with the South Korean officials since 2013. The documents complete with presentations and pictures of a Korean delegation that met their Botswana counterpart in Gaborone show that officials from the two counties held a business presentation on the T-50 supersonic trainer, built jointly by Korea Aerospace Industries (KIA) and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, as well as the FA-50, a light attack variant of the T-50.

The documents also show pictures of President Khama and South Korean officials during a demonstration to Khama on the advantages of the FA-50 also known as the Golden Eagle. The documents implore Botswana to purchase the fighter jets from Korea citing “affordable acquisition and low operating cost,”  as compared to its competitors from European countries especially Sweden. Other benefits are “proven weapon capability, efficient training pipeline and extensive training for indigenous operation...dedicates to Botswana Aerospace (Training Human Resource).” KAI also promises to provide BDF with “training Media analysis including visit to Republic of Korea Air Force Base and concept study for BDF.” The documents also inform BDF management that “FA-50 training is the right way for the Fighter pilot training” and that “FA-50 can perform both training and combat mission.” “FA-50 and enhanced will be the best solution to build up fleet with economic way,” the documents say.

Comparing their FA-50 T-50 to Swedish Gripen fighter jets, the South Koreans say the two fighter jets have same size, same engine similar performance but “competitor’s (Gripen) life cycle cost is estimated as three times to FA-50.” Citing a number of media articles, the reports from KAI state that leasing or buying and maintaining Gripens from Saab cost other countries billions of money as compared to South Korean fighter jets. Describing itself as a “trustworthy partner for the Botswana Defence Force,” KAI promises to provide BDF with instructional systems development (ISD) training not only for FA-50 but also for PC-7 and T-50 fighter jets.

While the Koreans do not state how much their potential deal with Botswana is likely to cost the Southern Africa country, reports indicate that Gripens are likely to cost Botswana more than P16 billion. It has since emerged that as the race to sign the multibillion Pula military deal with Botswana intensifies, it is not only Sweden and South Korea that are desperate for a slice of the military budget worth more than P20 billion. Countries such as Brazil, tenderpreneurs, lobbyists’ agents and middlemen are also in the running. In a previous response to Sunday Standard enquiries, BDF’s Deputy Director, Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola said “As stated in our previous response to enquiries on the above matter, we wish to reiterate that the Government of Botswana through the Botswana Defence Force has been in discussion with several governments and aircraft manufactures with view to evaluate the of replacing some of its equipment to include aircraft.” BDF was non-committal when asked to comment on allegations that a middleman could be brokering the possible Gripens deal with Sweden.  

“In all these engagements with various government and aircraft manufactures, the BDF has been dealing with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and therefore the BDF does not have any middleman. Moreover BDF does not prescribe to the OEM whether or not appoint any agents,” said Machola. Recently the French defence Ministry has revealed in a report that Botswana Defence Force was Africa’s biggest spender on French military hardware last year. As part of its military shopping spree, the BDF bought €304.2 million (about P3.6 billion) worth of military hardware from France in 2016 alone.

The report, submitted to the French Parliament in July, reveals that  Botswana was not only the biggest customer of French military equipment, but its expenditure was five times the combined  expenditure of Africa’s five biggest spenders on French military artillery. The report states that in 2016 sub-Saharan Africa ordered €379.9 million worth of military equipment from France in 2016, up from €89.6 million in 2015.