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Kenyan Air Tractor sale hits turbulence

An Air Tractor AT-802U.A US congressman has asked for the sale of 12 Air Tractor aircraft to Kenya to be halted while allegations of faulty contracting practices, fraud, and unfair treatment are investigated.

On 19 January the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the possible sale of up to twelve Air Tractor AT-802L and two AT-504 trainer aircraft, weapons, technical support to Kenya in a deal that could be worth up to $418 million.

The prime contractor would be L-3 Communications, Platform Integration Division, Waco, Texas. The AT-802L Longsword, developed in conjunction with L-3 and Air Tractor, is based on the previous militarised AT-802U, but features a number of improvements.

On 14 February US Representative Ted Budd introduced a resolution to halt the Foreign Military Sale of the Air Tractors to Kenya. “The proposed sale would reward a $13 billion company [L-3] that has never produced airplanes of this type and would cost $283 million dollars more than a small business in North Carolina [Iomax], which is currently producing the needed aircraft,” Budd stated.

“This is at least the third instance the disabled veteran-owned NC contractor [Iomax] was passed over, despite its ability to deliver a more cost-effective option.

“My office has received credible allegations of faulty contracting practices, fraud, and unfair treatment surrounding this sale. Given that this proposed contract was decided without competition, to a company that has no experience or track record producing this kind of aircraft, and for a price that is more than double what a contractor in our district has quoted, further investigation is definitely in order.

“The resolution I introduced today would halt this sale, and give the Congress time to look into these troubling allegations. We need to ensure that Kenya, a longtime ally, is getting a fair deal, and that veteran-owned small businesses in our state aren’t getting shut out of competition because of government favouritism towards giant contractors.”

Budd said that Iomax claims it can fulfil the contract for $180 million, and it has 48 weaponized border patrol aircraft in service, as opposed to zero for L-3.

Budd is the member of the US House of Representatives for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district and therefore has an interest in supporting industry in his state. Air Tractor is based in Texas while L-3 has headquarters in New York.

Politico notes that if adopted, Budd’s measure would be the first time Congress votes to block a foreign arms sale since 1986. His resolution has been passed to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In announcing the potential sale last month, the DSCA said the Air Tractor aircraft would be used to support operations against al-Shabaab and troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

“The proposed sale provides a needed capability in the ongoing efforts to counter al-Shabaab. The platform maximizes the Kenyan Defense Force's Close Air Support (CAS) ability because it is a short-field aircraft capable of using precision munitions and cost effective logistics and maintenance.”

The US said the proposed sale supplements Kenya's aging F-5 fighter aircraft as it will be more fiscally efficient and able to be pre-positioned much closer to the conflict area than the F-5 fleet.

The AT-802U was introduced in 2009 can carry a 3 600 kg payload on 11 hardpoints that includes Mk 82 bombs, Hellfire missiles, M260 rocket launchers and GAU-19 Gatling guns. Useful load is 4 000 kg after armour has been fitted.

According to Air Tractor, the AT-802U is protected by cockpit and engine armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and armoured glass windscreens and windows. The AT-802U can be fitted with a wide variety of sensors, such as retractable L-3 Wescam MX-15Di sensor pod, ROVER video downlink, satellite communications, and secure radios. A Pratt & Whitney PT6A engine provides 1 600 shp, giving a maximum speed of 394 km/h.
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