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Botswana Air Arm - Modernization

With the acquisition in 1996 of CF-5 (Canadian designation CF-116) fighters, the Air Wing obtained a limited capability to defend Botswana airspace from its neighbors. The aircraft of the South African and Angolan Air Forces are superior to those of Botswana, but the air forces of Zambia and Zimbabwe fly older aircraft (MiG-21 and F-7), which are not comparable to the upgraded CF-5. The transport and helicopter forces are inadequate to support the army in a country as large as Botswana.

Colonel Sianang Mokuedi ["Can the Botswana Defence Force Attain its Effectiveness Posture", African Defense April May 2015, african-defense.com] the " defects of defense acquisition can best be illustrated by the procurement of 14 Canadian-built CF-5 aircraft from representatives of the Canadian government in the 1990s. Like most weapon platforms the BDF acquired at the time the CF-5 was bought second hand.

The strategic calculus of its purchase is neither apparent nor documented in the public domain. These CF-5A/B models had far too many operational limitations to be employed as a modern tactical fighter. Consequently it remains an ineffective air superiority fighter, it is equally in effective as a ground attack aircraft and lacks operational range when carrying a weapons load. Insightfully, Royal Canadian Air Force pilots stated the CF-5 lacked all-weather navigation and attack capabilities. Specifically it could not compete with the MiG-19 Farmer when the standard fighte requipment of the Warsaw Pact was the more advanced MiG-21 Fishbed.

Bought at a time when all Botswana's neighbors possessed aircraft superior to the MiG-19 Farmer the CF-5 was an inapt answer to most of the BDF s missions. The operational radius of the aircraft limits its support to our troops so it can treliably provide fire support to a BDF peace-enforcement mission abroad. The CF-5, like other Cold-War era aircraft has a large logistical footprint it uses liquid oxygen an independent ground-power unit supplemental air for starting as well as other ground support equipment. Additionally the aircraft has serious sustainment challenges. The OEM Canadair no longer maintains configuration control for the CF-5, similarly Canadian Forces have no interest in its future. This has left the BDF at the mercy of unreliable private suppliers. "

By 2016 the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) was considering buying Gripens to replace the F-5s, with an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. However, as of mid-2016 there was no concrete agreement and no allocation of funds to purchase the planes. Those who subscribed to the fighter jet deal argued that the BDF’s F-5s, bought from Canada in the mid-1990s, were completely obsolete and had to be replaced with a new fighter fleet. Those opposed to the deal argued that the cost was too steep financially and out of step with the immediate needs of the BDF and the country generally. If this deal happened it will be between the two governments - Botswana and Sweden. The Gripen had the lowest operating cost.

The Bostwana publication "Mmegi" reported in April 2014 that the BDF was now at an advanced stage of acquiring the South Korean T-50 fighter jet. In November 2015, a Korean delegation that met with Defence Minister, Ramadeluka Seretse and other BDF commanders gave a presentation on the T-50 supersonic trainer, built jointly with Korea Aerospace Industries (KIA) and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. A presentation was also made on the FA-50, a light attack variant of the T-50.

The decision to buy F-5 Fighter jets in previous years was a blunder as the army failed to carefully take into consideration the total costs of ownership, especially operating costs of the F-5 which are said to be unsustainable. This was said by the BDF commander Major General Gaolathe Galebotswe when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on 06 June 2016.

Galebotswe could not hide that the F-5 operating costs per hour pinch directly into BDF pockets. “F-5s have become unsustainable for Botswana Defence force. We needed something that is cost effective but still capable in carrying out our mandate on air,” he told PAC. “I am talking about revitalising the BDF, when I came in we were looking for platforms we have to rebuild, the current F5 planes gave us reach, it was part of the air defense capability.” However, Galebotswe said they were looking at the life cycle of the old fleet, as well as its operating cost per hour.

The BDF went to the market in search of new model of fighter jets to replace the F-5s. “So what did we do? We went to the market and we have considered any other fighter jets like the American F-16 and many others. Gripens were part of that. There is a dialogue currently ongoing to consider Gripens in replacement of F-5s because Gripens have the lowest operating cost,” said Galebotswe. “We were looking for something to replace the F-5, and we considered the F-16, the Russian Mig, a Chinese jet."

In June Saab group’s head of communications, Anne Lewis-Olsson told the Bostwana publication "Mmegi" that they set up an office in Gaborone in January 2016 as part of an expansion process. She said the company had seen opportunities in both Botswana and the wider Sub-Sahara Africa. “Botswana has been selected as the third country in Sub-Saharan Africa for Saab AB to open an office due to its transparent business environment and solid business opportunities for various products in the Saab portfolio,” she said.

“Apart from being a highly capable aircraft, the Gripen’s chief selling point is its affordability, in terms of development, acquisition, operation, and through-life sustainment, which makes it ideal for countries like Botswana and South Africa.” The Gripen fighter jet, one of Saab’s most successful products, is being offered in the most recent Gripen E version. Lewis-Olsson’s could not confirm whether Botswana had ordered the jet or was planning to.

“We are just starting to establish our presence in Botswana and we see many opportunities for our Saab products and systems in the country and also future opportunities to offer long term co-operation and partnerships between Botswana and Sweden,” she said in reply to a question whether Botswana is buying from them.

Saab’s foray into Botswana could be motivated by the fact that the Southern African Standby Force (SSF) Logistics Depot will be established in Gaborone. The depot will provide all supplies to the seven-year-old SSF whose role ranges from humanitarian, peacekeeping to defence. “Strategically speaking, you follow the Dollar,” said one insider. “Saab will be strategically closer to the logistics depot which holds the promise of consistent US Dollar procurement, while the BDF and its deep pockets will also be a neighbour.”

The tenure of the Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe came to an end at the end of July 2016 as he has reached the statutory age of retirement. Since 2012 when General Galebotswe was appointed the commander, he came up with strict regulations within the army which led to some experienced and skilled officers leaving the army. A commando by training, Galebotswe’s style of management is said to have made some soldiers un-comfortable.

There are two main reasons that army sources say led to Galebotswe losing his job – his condemnation of the multi-billion Pula fighter jet deal, and secondly, his determination to remove the shadowy middlemen who were legendary in BDF procurement circles.

In September 2016, a high-ranking Swedish delegation, led by Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, toured Botswana. The subsequent scandal involving ballooning costs diverted Swedes' attention from more pressing issues, such as Sweden's plans to market JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets to the African nation. According to peace researchers Johan Brosché, Kristine Höglund and Sebastian van Baalen, the deal is highly controversial, especially given the bribery scandals that followed a similar deal with South Africa.

Critics saw the idea of Botswana acquiring a fleet of advanced fighter aircraft may trigger a regional arms race, with Namibia and other neighboring countries to follow suit, with detrimental consequences for everyone but the arms dealers. At present, Botswana is not faced with any direct external threat and it is unclear why huge sums must be invested in the acquisition of advanced fighter jets. Whereas the need to protect the country's tourism industry, combat poaching and monitor the flow of refugees previously were indicated as reasons, none of these problems can be solved with advanced fighter jets.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2017 19:44:30 ZULU