Uproar as police chopper repurposed for DP Gachagua's use

Officials say this has left officers without both surveillance and operational chopper

In Summary
  • The move has angered police commanders who feel it is aimed at grounding them in their internal functions.
  • Plans are underway to repaint the chopper new Kenya Airforce colours to mark the final take over, the officials added. 
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
HANDED CHOPPER: Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
Image: FILE

An expensive custom-made operational chopper for the National Police Service has been reconfigured for use by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

This has left police without both surveillance and operational chopper, officials said. 

Sources aware of the developments said the military brought in experts from Egypt who dismantled expensive surveillance gadgets installed in a police Agusta AW139 to make it for passenger use and in particular for use by Gachagua. 

The move has angered police commanders who feel it is aimed at grounding them in their internal functions.

Among others, the airwing uses the chopper to carry out surveillance patrols weekly in known bandit-prone areas and this was helping in reducing the bandit attacks. 

Resupply and change over of troops in the Boni Forest has not been going on since the MI helicopter the military took for repair has not been paid for and is still waiting for shipment out of the country. 

It cost the government Sh2 billion to have the chopper in the country. 

“We spent Sh1.3 billion acquiring it and further Sh700 million installing the equipment for better use," a senior official aware of the frustrations said. 

“We have tried to escalate [the issue] for attention of anyone who cares in vain. This is unfortunate because it is seen as malicious to dismantle an expensive gadget to accommodate a VIP.”

After the configuration, the chopper was taken for the first tests on January 11 and 12.

Officials said it was almost given a clean bill of health and it will most likely be handed over for use as planned. 

Plans are underway to repaint the chopper new Kenya Airforce colours to mark the final take over, the officials added. 

After the test runs are completed, the officials plan to hand over the chopper to Gachagua for his own use.

The DP had apparently asked the Kenya Airforce for a chopper to use for his official and private duties, officials aware said.

Since the military had no chopper to give Gachagua, they reportedly advised him to ask for one from the police.

In October last year, State House Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei wrote to then-Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai  and ordered the handover of one of the two Agusta AW139 choppers to the Kenya Airforce for use by the DP.

The military demanded that the police hand them a chopper that was factory-made for surveillance purposes amid protests.

This is despite the fact that there was another one, which is in the VIP factory configuration.

“The one they picked has a surveillance camera with a screen monitor in the cabin and it is linked to two ground stations based in Nairobi and Mombasa, which can receive live transmissions when the helicopter is airborne,” one official aware of the issue said.

The chopper also has two vehicle-mounted stations which can be taken to any part of the country where there is conflict to enable commanders to see the real situation on the ground.

This means the mounted equipment on the chopper to be used by the DP have been dismantled. The equipment are valued at millions of shillings.

Police have protested the move by the military to demand the surveillance chopper instead of the VIP one, saying it is aimed at crippling their own internal operations.

“It means all this equipment, which cost the government huge sums have been dismantled when we have a fully configured VIP Agusta which they don't want to take. Ask them why,” another officer said.

The officers at the National Police Service Airwing want their commanders to stand firm and reject the military move.

Police headquarters and the Department of Defence refused to comment on the saga.

A senior officer aware of the issue said the matter had been escalated to President William Ruto for his information and decision, but the military went on with the move.

And given National Air Support Department (NASD) was not classified anywhere in the latest Executive Order by President Ruto, many expected the military, which manages it, to halt their moves.

Instead, they have been operating NASD while using unspecified budgets for the upgrades.

“NASD was not mentioned in the Executive Order and we don’t know how they are operating now,” the officer said. 

NASD was formed to repair and return the serviceable equipment for operational use by the department but the take over by Kenya Airforce on a operational helicopter for VIP duties goes against this initial idea, officials said. 

The advanced mission helicopter which is now in contention is equipped with a camera capable of scanning car number plates and zooming into individuals in a crowd within a range of at least five kilometres.

The airwing is a key support unit of the NPS.

In December 2020, the President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the official handover to the military the management of government civilian-owned planes in the country. He later launched NASD at Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

Uhuru then emphasised the NASD mandate to provide centralised management of national aviation assets for optimal utilisation, management and serviceability.

Other roles of NASD are to enhance safety, swift response and quality of aviation services in line with the various stakeholders’ core mandates.

He said that in the past, the lack of proper maintenance of aviation equipment within the national civilian air fleet brought tragedies to the nation.

“Indeed, the result of this approach has been poor manning and state of aircraft serviceability in each of the individual government departments," President Kenyatta said.

"In some cases, departments had more air assets, with less manpower while others had more manpower with fewer assets and others had low serviceability rates." 

He said the inauguration of NASD signals a new era in the management of the country’s aviation assets, one which promises greater safety, efficiency and quality.

Uhuru challenged the department's leadership to work hard to become the benchmark for other government agencies.


(edited by Amol Awuor)

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