The U.S. is reported to have rejected a proposal by the Botswana Government to procure a multi-billion Pula MF 16 fighter jets saying this could spark an arms race within the SADC region.
Sunday Standard was unable to establish what could have prompted Botswana’s interest in the proposal of the MF 16 fighter jet believed to be of one the most expensive modern military aircraft in the world.
Sources within the BDF told Sunday Standard this week that the US described Botswana’s proposal as dangerous and outrageous because the deal has the potential to destabilise the region but also result in strategic anxiety.
“The US rejected the proposal on the basis that Botswana does not need such expensive jets because it was not facing any imminent threat within the region. The deal, should it have been given the green light could have sparked an unnecessary arms race within the region,” said a source within the military who is close to the failed negotiations.
Information reaching this publication indicates that sometime in 2013 the Minister of Defence Justice and Security, Ramdeluka Seretse and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Major General Gaolathe Galebotswe travelled to the Pentagon at the invitation of the US to discuss possible purchase of US military equipment.
It is understood that Botswana wished to purchase the expensive fighter jets through one of the financing military progams arrangement by the US such as the Foreign Military Financing (FMF).
The FMF program provides grants and loans to help countries purchase weapons and defense equipment produced in the United States as well as acquiring defense services and military training. FMF funds purchases are made through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which manages government-to-government sales.
Source claim that after the US told Botswana that its proposal was outrageous and dangerous, a cold diplomatic tension started simmering.
“Botswana did not expect to have been given a cold shoulder by the US because along it has been its blue eyed boy. This is one of the major factors that led to the apparent strain in relations between the two countries,” said a source at the embassy. The fighter jet is costly and it is normally found in big armies.
After the deal failed, sources say, the BDF was then advised to keep F5 fighter jets which are also expensive to maintain.
Contacted for comment, the BDF downplayed reports that it was last year engaged in negotiations relating to the proposal of the expensive MF 16 fighter jets.
“The Botswana Defence Force like any organisation reviews its inventory from time to time based on operational requirements and needs. Notwithstanding that no proposal has been made to purchase MF 16 or any type of jets,” said Director of Protocol and Public Affairs Colonel Tebo Dikole.
Dikole also added that the “Botswana US military relations are not strained in any way, shape or form, instead the defence cooperation between the two countries to grow.” The US embassy in Gaborone had not responded to Sunday Standard queries at the time of writing the article.
Recently Botswana emerged as one of the countries that are actively looking to purchase South Korea’s T-50 supersonic advanced trainer jets and FA-50 light combat aircraft worth 450 million US Dollars (about P3.9 billion).
The BDF’s current compliment of aircraft consists of 14, F-5A fighter jets and F-5D trainers it bought from Canada in 1996; hence it is now looking to replace them with more suitable modern aircraft. However reports indicate that the BDF has since abandoned the deal.
Botswana is among the top five African countries that spend significantly in the military equipment, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) product. SIPRI ranked Botswana at number 86 out of the 154 countries it has studied recently.
The 2012 World Bank reports on Botswana reveals that 2.66% of it GDP is spent on the military. Such expenditures include military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; operation and maintenance; procurement; military research and development; and military aid (in the military expenditures of the donor country).