Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Botswana looking for more fighter jets after Gripens

Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s military expenditure is expected to swell following fresh revelations that Botswana has added another list of military acquisitions to its already huge military expenditure.  

 Military insiders this week claimed that initially the army had decided to settle on the JAS Gripens from Sweden only but a list of other different military fighter aircrafts has been added.

 The potential contract for the Gripens  which the leader of the opposition Duma Boko petitioned Swedish Parliament against will set Botswana back about P18 billion.

It is understood that plans are at an advanced stage to seal a deal with Brazil to acquire the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano. 

Reports indicate that the plan to acquire Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano was a subject of intense discussion during Brazil’s Minister of External Relations Aloysio Nunes‘s visit to Botswana in May this year. His visit was part of a follow-up to a delegation from his country that had visited Botswana in February last year.

Also named ALX or A-29, is a turboprop light attack aircraft designed for counter-insurgency, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance missions in low-threat environments, as well as providing pilot training; a unit cost for EMB 314 Super Tucano is between $9-$14 million, (about P90million-P140 million).

Botswana’s new obsession with military acquisition has sparked local and international backlash following President Ian Khama’s visit to Sweden last week to negotiate a multibillion arms deal involving Gripens. Swedish media outlets claim that the two countries have already struck an arms deal and President Khama was there to seal it. Khama had joined Defence Minister Shaw Kgathi who was in Sweden for the whole week to familiarise himself with different models of Gripens.

BDF’s Deputy Director, Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola said that “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.

In 2016, the BDF took delivery of a single Airbus Helicopters EC225LP Super Puma helicopter, which was acquired second hand from Spain. It has since emerged that President Khama’s new helicopter, an EC225LP Super Puma Mk II, is barred from British and Norwegian airspace. Reports indicate that the helicopter was grounded pending an enquiry last year and since then they have come back to service and more have been added to the fleet.

The BDF’s search for new military hardware has also taken it to South Korea as it shows interest in modified K2 Black Panther main battle tanks. The BDF wants to spend up to P2 billion (US $179 million) to purchase up to 45 Piranha 3 8×8 armored wheeled vehicles from Swiss company General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS-Mowag).

In February last year, Botswana announced a P3.59 billion budget for the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security. In his presentation, Finance and Development Planning Minister Kenneth Matambo said part of the funds allocated would be used to fund the acquisition of new military hardware to replace the generally outdated systems presently deployed to defend the country.

According to a recent study by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) titled “Trends in military expenditure, 2016,” Botswana “had the highest percentage increase in military spending between 2015 and 2016 of any country in Africa.”

The study states that “despite it being in one of the least conflict-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa and one of the few African countries to have never been involved in an armed conflict, Botswana’s spending grew by 40 percent or $152 million (about P1.5 billion)  in 2016.” 

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries, a researcher at SIPRI, Dr Nan Tian, said in terms of regional threats, there are no new developments that would warrant an increase of military spending by Botswana. “The government has mentioned the reason behind the spending to be military modernisation, but the question remains for what purpose do Batswana need to modernise their military?” asked Tian.

“Is their equipment at a point where it needs to be modernised? Also, is there a potential threat which means Botswana need to modernise? In terms of evidence to back these two claims, from our data, it would suggest not to be the case,” he said.

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