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KENYA BUYS RUSSIAN GUNSHIPS

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY DOMINIC WABALA
The indian type Mi-17-V5 heavy lift helicopter
FIREPOWER: The indian type Mi-17-V5 heavy lift helicopter.

Kenya has acquired eight Russian made BRDM-3 reconnaissance vehicles and three helicopter gunships, the Star has established. The arrival of the new strike force is timely as Kenya has been engaged since October 2011 in an intense military operation in southern Somalia to root out al Shabaab.

The attack helicopters and reconnaissance vehicles were acquired from top arms company Rosoboronexport after senior military officers made several visits to Russia.Kenya had originally sought to acquire 88 reconnaissance vehicles for a total cost of Sh8.9 billion (US$105.6 million) in August 2011, according to the Strategic Intelligence News website. The reconnaissance vehicles were to be delivered by the end of 2011.

The Kenya Air Force also acquired three Ulan Ude Mi-171 attack helicopters. One is reported to have crashed in Liboi on April 5th 2011. The helicopter gunships were delivered to the 50th Air Calvary Division in Kenya on January 3 this year from the Russian state owned corporation Rosoboronexport which is an intermediary for all imports and exports of military related hardware.

A senior military officer confirmed that delivery of the aircraft and said that the orders were placed several years ago. The delivery dates were late 2011 and January 2012. The latest military purchases come after Kenya was put on the international limelight in 2007/8 following the hijacking by Somali pirates of the MV Faina carrying 33 T 72 tanks destined for Kenya but which were suspected to be en route to South Sudan.

Kenya insisted the tanks were for its own use although it has not filed an annual arms purchase report with the United Nations. The Stockholm International Peace Institute, a Swedish based organization that monitors arms movements, last year reported that Kenya took delivery of an estimated 110 T-72 tanks.

SIPRI also revealed that during the same period Kenya acquired 11 BM -21 multiple rocket launchers. The Swedish organisation ranked Kenya as the eighth largest importer of arms in sub-Saharan Africa. It said Kenya had imported 655 rocket launchers, 550 machine guns and 44,500 assault rifles from Ukraine between 2007 and 2010. The Russian made BRDM-3 reconnaissance vehicles have a carrying capacity of six crew including a commander, a gunner, driver and three scouts with some reconnaissance equipment.

Kenya late last year began the process of acquiring 16 Mi-28 ground attack helicopters for its Embakasi based 50th Air Calvary Division. The attack helicopter known as Havoc is an all-weather day and night military two-seater anti-armor aircraft. They will join the fleet of four Chinese made Z9WE attack helicopters which the military took delivery of last month. The Z9WE are anti armor attack helicopters are manufactured by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group, a China Aviation Industry Corporation owned company.

The equipment has helped the Kenya Defence Forces Operation Linda Nchi whose aim is to get rid of the Al Shabaab insurgents. The operation has heavily relied on air strikes to destroy numerous Al Shabaab training camps and arms deports before joint KDF and Transitional Federal Government troops go in to mop up any remnants of the insurgents in the villages and towns.

yesterday confirmed that the military was modernising but declined to comment on KDF's latest acquisitions. " What I can confirm is that as a security organ we are modernizing our defense forces to meet the demands and challenges of modern warfare. I cannot give any more information or details," Department of Defense director of Public Communications Bogita Ongeri said yesterday.

Kenya has been looking for serviceable and affordable fighter jets preferably the F-15. Senior military officers in 2009 visited American military bases and resolved to upgrade their air defenses. The team sought to acquire about 20 F-15 fighter jets from Jordan which were scheduled to be delivered in 2012. The 17th US Air Force command visited the Laikipia Airbase in August 2009 to assess how Kenya Air Force could meet the resulting challenges.

Ministry of Defense and Air Force officials, including the then Kenyan Chief of General Staff General Jeremiah Kianga’, the then Kenyan Air Force Chief of Staff Major General Harold Tangai, and Laikipia Air Base Commander Colonel Francis Agolla held meetings under the aegis of the Kenya-U.S. Liaison Office, according to Major Sergio Porres, KUSLO action officer.

The 17th Air Force command Commander General William E. 'Kip' Ward’s and his team advised on the need to modernize the air force capabilities Kenya’s Air force was the allocated over Sh2 billion for the installation of modern equipment at the Laikipia Airbase to enable night operations. This includes Instrument Landing System with homing beacons for pilots to locate the airport.