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Botswana Defence Force (BDF) - Modernization

By the late 1970s, the newly established diamond wealth provided the GOB with the resources to establish an effective defense force. Since its establishment in 1977, the Botswana Defence Force has undergone a steady process of restructuring. This has assisted the BDF to keep up with the ever changing tactics of modern warfare. Within a decade of its founding, the BDF had grown by a factor of ten to approximately 6,000 personnel.

By 1988 its ground forces had been organised into two infantry brigades, one based in Gaborone and the other in Francistown. Its reconnaissance company had grown into a well-trained commando squadron of about 120 personnel. Also by this time, the BDF had acquired substantially greater firepower and mobility, with a modest inventory of US-made Cadillac- Gage V-150 light-wheeled fighting vehicles and Soviet-designed BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers.

It will take time for them to incorporate their new, mechanized equipment, as they have no experience to build upon, and no way to move their heavy armored vehicles long distances.

The BDF has evolved from a home-grown Defence Force to a highly professional Defence Force that has all the capabilities to effectively defend the country. With time, it has developed from one Rifle Company on 109 Land Rovers to a fully fledged defence force under three main Commands, Ground Forces, Defence Logistics and Air Arm. Botswana also acquired new ground force equipment in the mid-1990s, including a twelve-gun battery of new 105 mm howitzers and twenty Alvis Scorpion light tanks from the United Kingdom, along with fifty Steyr-Daimler-Puch SK 105 light tanks from Austria.

In 1995 Botswana signed an agreement to purchase second-hand 50 Leopard-1A4 tanks [some sources reported 40 tanks, others 54, wile others said "at least 20", and others the Leopard 1V] worth about US$750,000, light guns and 200 troop carriers from the Netherlands. Botswana said it wanted to use the tanks in peacekeeping operations, but Namibia was concerned that the balance is disrupted in the region. In May 1996, the Namibian President, Sam Nujoma, met directly with Chancellor Kohlin Bonn and objected to the planned Dutch tank deliveries to Botswana. In direct contradiction to its commitment to the UN Register, the Dutch government was unwilling to disclose even the number of Leopard 1Vs sold to Botswana, citing Botswanas desire to keep this information secret. In December 1995, the Dutch cabinet gave its approval for the transaction and the weapons were due to arrive in Botswana after early 1996.

But the German government, and encouraged by the authorities in Namibia [ex-German South West Africa], vetoed the Dutch sale on 22 July 1996. The Hague and Bonn agreed in 1968 and 1969 in connection with the supply contract for the Leopard I that the tanks could only be sold to a NATO country [an agreement subsequently revised]. The BDF commander, Lt-Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama, criticized Germany, saying that Botswana had previously purchased from NATO and would get tanks from elsewhere if needed. General Khama added that the purchases had nothing to do with a long-standing border dispute with Namibia, which the two countries had taken to the World Court in The Hague. The Dutch government believed the fear of Namibia and Germany were unfounded, but did not feel free to resist the objections to the tank sale. Futher action against the deal was taken by Germany on 17 February 1998.

After 172 Leopard 1Vs were given to Greece, 265 remained to be sold. An undisclosed number, assumed to be about 52 (including two training tanks without turrets), was reportedly sold in 1995 to Botswana. This deal also included 50 M-40A1 106mm recoilless guns, 279 DAF YA- 4440 4-ton trucks and ammunition. It also involved a non-disclosure arrangement, and parliament was not officially informed of the transaction. Reportedly, the deal was worth Fl 23 million, although no official information was released (Janes Defence Weekly, 10 January 1996). This seems to have been a rumor, as nothing more was heard of this transaction.

The British firm Vickers then approached the BDF, offering it 36 British Scorpion light tanks as a substitute to replace the failed Dutch deal.

BDF kept pace with modern warfare technology and has acquired vehicles for tactical mobility and aircraft for strategic mobility. By 2004 the BDF had grown to just over 12,000 personnel (heading towards a planned ultimate level of about 15,000). Its ground forces were being reorganised into three infantry brigades and an armoured brigade. One of the infantry brigades was headquartered near Gaborone, another near Francistown in the north. The headquarters of the third was being organised at Ghanzi in the west of the country. Each of the infantry brigades was responsible for the security of a significant area of the country. The armoured brigade is stationed near Gaborone.

Its inventory consists of heavy weapons platforms these are obsolete cold-war era capabilities drawn from all corners of the world. Poor choices for the missions the BDF has been engaged in over the past two decades. For the most part these have been actions against internal non-state actors and aid to civil authorities assignments calling for light mobile forces. Years of economic growth enabled Botswana to purchase prestige symbols, going against the current trends of disarmament and security cooperation of the region. There was no clear connection between the capabilities acquired and the challenges the country faced against poachers, border security, aid to civil society and escalating demands for peacekeeping in the continent.

By 2016 the BDF wanted to spend up to P2 billion (US $179 million) to purchase up to 45 Piranha 3 8x8 armored wheeled vehicles from Swiss company General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS-Mowag). The Piranha was developed by GDELS' Swiss subsidiary, Mowag Motorwagenfabriken. More than 8,000 variants of the advanced armored wheeled vehicles, which come in 6X6, 8X8 and 10X10 wheeled configurations, have been sold globally since its inception. According to local newspaper Business Weekly, the new additions would increase the number of Piranhas in the BDF inventory to 90, as it already operates 45 others, which were delivered in 2003. The media outlet reported that the BDF plans to acquire turreted Piranha 3 variants, which would feature 30mm cannons among the main armaments.

Critics saw the move in the BDF to introduce brigade groupings as yet another self-induced change by the military without any legislative policy or doctrinal guidance. Like previous changes, the critics charge that it is largely a copy-paste structure from the US (without appreciating the methods, environment, scale, and experiences that informed the brigade combat teams decision in the US), and with no study to demonstrate its appropriateness to Botswana' country s defense needs military effectiveness or affordability.

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