in Defence / Features

Tiger bares its teeth

Posted 7 June 2017 · Add Comment

For decades, Botswana has avoided social division and corruption, and has been widely praised as an “African tiger”, with a successful economy, an 85% literacy rate, and a Government rated 35th out of 176 countries in Transparency International's latest clean government rankings.

But with reduced commodity prices hitting the nation’s mining industry hard, and with increasing foreign debt, growth has slowed, threatening ambitious plans to re-equip and revitalize the Botswana Defence Force and its small but highly regarded Air Wing.
The Air Wing was formed in 1977 and was initially equipped with Britten-Norman Defenders, and these were subsequently joined by Cessna 152 and Scottish Aviation Bulldog trainers, Britten-Norman Trislanders Short Skyvans and Eurocopter AS350BA Ecureuil helicopters. Later additions included CASA C-212 Aviocars, CASA CN-235Ms and, in 1988 nine ex-Kuwaiti BAE Systems Strikemasters, which formed a combat element.
In 1996-97 the Strikemasters (which were augmented by some ex-Kenyan aircraft during their service) were replaced by eighteen ex-Canadian CF-116 Freedom Fighters (thirteen single-seater CF-5As and five two-seat CF-5B trainers) ordered in 1996 and 2000. Training is provided by five PC-7 Mk II trainers ordered in 2013, to replace long-serving Pilatus PC-7s that have been in service since 1990.

A single C-130B Hercules was acquired in 2001, and has since been augmented by two further aircraft. The transport arm also includes two CN235s and a single Do 328 aircraft delivered in 2009-2010.
The rotary wing element includes the survivors of ten AS350/AS550 Fennecs and six Bell 412s.
More recent acquisitions include 14 Bat Hawk Surveillance Aircraft delivered by Micro Aviation of South Africa. Six of these will be used by the BDF for border security (armed with dual 5.56 mm Minimi machineguns), with four for the Botswana Police Services and four for the department of wildlife and parks for anti-poaching duties.
On 14 September 2016 Botswana received a single Airbus Helicopters EC225LP Super Puma II+ helicopter, a second-hand example previously operated by the Spanish National Police Corps Special Operations Group. The helicopter was returned to Airbus Helicopters in 2013 in part payment for a new batch of Spanish police EC135s. It was delivered to Botswana on board an Antonov Airlines Antonov An-124 transport aircraft, after undergoing overhaul.
All Botswana Defence Force Air Wing squadrons are referred to using a Z prefix. The main base at Thebephatshwa near Molepolole accommodates Z1 with BN-2A Islanders, Z7 with PC-7 Mk IIs, and Z10 with C212-300s, C-130Bs and CN235M-100s. The base also hosts the AS350BA and Bell 412SPs of Z21 and the AS350B3s of Z23, as well as the CF-5A/D Freedom Fighters of Z28 . The airfield at Maun is used as a forward operating location for fighters, transports and helicopters.

Sir Seretse Khama International Airport at Gaborone is home to the VIP flight which has a Gulfstream G-IV, a Beriev Be-200 and a Bell 412EP. The O-2As of Z3 and BN-2s of Z12 are based at Francistown.
The Botswana Defence Force is believed to operate Elbit Systems Silver Arrow and Elbit Hermes 450 UAVs, though their assignment and basing remains unknown.
During an appearance before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee BDF commander Lt. Gen. Gaolathe Galebotswe, revealed that the BDF had approached multiple possible manufacturers in Russia, the US, China and Sweden with the aim of acquiring a modern fighter to replace the CF-5. President Ian Khama visited South Korea in October 2015, and reportedly had discussions with KAI about the T-50 Golden Eagle.
Galebotswe said that the BDF had studied the F-16, and unspecified Russian MiGs and undisclosed Chinese options before opting for the Saab Gripen on the basis of its ease of maintenance and cost-effectiveness.
Botswana’s air defence system is also to be upgraded via the introduction of MBDA Mistral and VL Mica air defence systems.

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