in Defence / Features

KAF focuses on new strategic needs

Posted 30 May 2017 · Add Comment

The Kenya Air Force is aiming to rethink its strategy to meet current threats. Githae Mwaniki reports.

The Kenya Air Force (KAF) was created in June 1964 to support the Kenyan Army in protecting the country’s territory. The focus was on training, surveillance and transport aircraft.
Most of its equipment was procured from the UK Royal Air Force with the DHC 1 Chipmunk as the trainer, DHC 2 Beaver as light utility aircraft and the DHC 4 Caribou in the transport role.
In 1971, a fighter capacity was brought in with the delivery of the BAC 167 Strikemaster jets. This was followed later by the Hawker Hunter, which met the fighter needs until 1980, when the BAE Hawk fighter jets were added.
A set of Dornier Do28s was procured to serve as transporters in 1977.
However, with the increased threats from neighbouring Mig-17s, Kenya needed to deliver stronger fighter power and, after overcoming acquisition and approval challenges, a $65 million financing purchase was secured to introduce the first batch of 10 Northrop Grumman F-5Es and two F-5Fs, associated spares and training.
The F-5 met the criteria, as a light tactical fighter, to provide air power for the basic demands of the country’s security and threat risks and was delivered at a relatively economical price that saw it replace the Hawker Hunter as the lead fighter.
The Scottish Aviation Bulldog served as the basic trainer with the DHC-5 Buffalo in the transport role over a four-decade period.
KAF currently operates a fighter fleet of 17 F-5Es and four F-5F trainers, with the most recent addition being F-5Es that were procured from the Jordanian Air Force.
After serving 35 years as the primary fighter, the issue of replacing the F-5 has been on the Kenyan Government table, with various options being suggested by military aviation advisors. The French Rafale jets were considered and tested in 2011, including a proposal for the F-16.
Currently, the fleet focus review is on strategic, VIP transport and fighters.
On the lead trainers, the unit acquired a squadron of Grob Aerospace G120s to replace the Scottish Aviation Tulcano.
On light transport, some military-configured Cessna Caravan CE208s were acquired and Mil-17 helicopters introduced to gradually assist the Aerospatiale A330 Pumas.
There is a challenge of getting spares for the DHC-5 Buffalo and the fleet was recently grounded. Now there is a technical review under way to determine a replacement for the strategic transporter with the several options being mentioned, including an upgraded version of the C-130 Hercules.
The aeronautical equipment financing challenge is sensitive due to the relatively high amounts involved when set against other competing national needs.
The VIP transporters currently include a set of Bombardier Dash 8 Q-100s, Aerospatiale AS 330 Puma helicopters and the Fokker 70 ER.
The Bombardier Dash 8 fleet is fairly advanced, with an average operational service life of 25 years, while the Puma helicopters have endured an extended service time and have very limited operational service life remaining. The Agusta Westland AW139 is being considered as a replacement.
The long-range VIP transporter designated for the head of state is currently the Fokker 70ER, which was acquired 22 years ago. It is currently approaching its initial basic service life of 25 years and, even though service extensions can be sought, its replacement requirement is fast approaching.
Most recently, an agreement to acquire of set of 12 Air Tractor AT-802L light attack aircraft was made with the US Government.
The other challenge KAF faces is the loss of skilled personnel. It has plans for a change in policy to restrict this; the unit aims to re-strategize to reshape its equipment, personnel, and operational policy to deliver its mission with the current threats in the region.
 

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