Botswana still evaluating its fighter jet options


The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is still evaluating its options regarding the acquisition of new fighter jets, in spite of Botswana’s President Ian Khama recent visit to Saab in Sweden and continued rumours over a Gripen acquisition.

Botswana is apparently interested in acquiring at least eight second hand Gripens from Sweden, and between 19 and 21 June President Khama visited Sweden where he met Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and visited Saab’s facilities, where he received a briefing on the Gripen.

Khama visited Saab’s facilities in Linkoping after being invited to the city by the Governor of the Swedish providence Ostergotland. Saab declined to provide further details on the visit. Khama was also due to hold a meeting with Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist and was accompanied by Botswana’s Defence Minister Shaw Kgathi, who met with Hultqvist and visited the Swedish Air Force’s F21 Wing.

Botswana is rumoured to be at an advanced stage in purchasing eight Gripens for some 15 billion Pula. Sweden’s Sverigesradio quoted Khama as saying during his visit that Botswana is currently evaluating what Sweden has to offer compared to other countries, as part of a market analysis study.

Botswana has previously expressed interest in the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle. A Korean delegation met Botswanan defence minister Ramadeluka Seretse and other BDF officials to discuss the T-50 and FA-50 models in November 2013, with talk of Botswana acquiring 16 T-50s. In October 2015, President Ian Khama visited South Korea and a KAI headquarters. However, last year Botswana entered into talks with Sweden over the possible acquisition of second hand Gripen C/D jets.

A 2013 report prepared for the head of the BDF’s air arm, Major General Odirile Mashinyana, recommended upgrading the F-5 (BF-5) fleet rather than acquiring new aircraft, according to Botswana’s Sunday Standard, which has seen a copy of the report.

The report said the BDF’s aerial capabilities were lagging behind those of countries in the region but by upgrading the F-5s Botswana could continue flying them for another ten years without having to buy new aircraft.
“It is found even though it is cost-effective to continue using the BF-5, the changing dynamics of air-power in the SADC region are rendering the BF-5 strategically obsolete,” the report said. “The BF-5 can be equipped with modern day weaponry systems and can continue defending the nation for the next 10 years but the cost-benefit analysis so far suggest it would not give BDF value-for-money. As thus we advise that the BF-5 platform should be kept, but instead change to the BF-5E variant.”

The BDF’s Deputy Director, Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola in June said that “we wish to reiterate that the Government of Botswana through the Botswana Defence Force has been in discussion with several governments and aircraft manufactures with view to evaluate the of replacing some of its equipment to include aircraft.”

Last month the Sunday Standard reported that Botswana was considering acquiring Super Tucano aircraft from Brazil’s Embraer after Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Relations Aloysio Nunes visited Botswana in May.

Although Saab in June flew the first prototype of its Gripen E/F model, which features various improvements compared to previous models, such as improved range, payload and avionics, Botswana would acquire previous generation Gripen C/D models.

The Botswana Defence Force has been allocated P14.8 billion ($1.35 billion) for the National Development Plan 11, which runs from 2017 to 2023. In addition to Gripens, the country has also expressed interest in acquiring 45 Piranha-3 wheeled infantry fighting vehicles and VL Mica air defence systems, amongst others.

The shark end of the BDF is made up of the BF-5 fighter force, which replaced Strikemasters in 1996/1997. Eighteen ex-Canadian CF-116 Freedom Fighters (thirteen single-seater CF-5As and five two-seat CF-5B trainers) were received between 1996 and 2000. Training is provided by five Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainers ordered in 2013, to replace PC-7s that have been in service since 1990.

Other aircraft in the BDF’s inventory include three C-130 Hercules, two CN235s, a single Do 328, around ten AS350/AS550 Fennecs and six Bell 412s. Recent acquisitions include 14 Bat Hawk light aircraft and a single Airbus Helicopters EC225LP Super Puma II+ helicopter.