The US State Department has approved the possible foreign military sale of Air Tractor aircraft, weapons and support to Kenya in a deal that could be worth up to $418 million.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the possible sale on 19 January and disclosed the potential sale on 23 January.
The DSCA said Kenya had requested the sale of up to twelve Air Tractor AT-802L and two AT-504 trainer aircraft, weapons, technical support and programme management worth $418 million.
“This proposed sale contributes to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a strong regional partner who is a regional security leader undertaking critical operations against al-Shabaab and troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM),” the DSCA said.
“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 prime contractor would be L-3 Communications, Platform Integration Division, Waco, Texas.
The Air Tractor AT-802 is an agricultural aircraft but has been converted for military use, making it suitable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), close support and counter-insurgency missions. 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.
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.
The type has been used for counter drugs missions in South America by the United States – 14 armoured but not armed aircraft have been operating in Colombia for the last 15 years. Air Tractor recently told Armada International that the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan operate 28 AT-802Us, while 12 have been sold to a Middle Eastern country. AT-802Us have also been delivered to Jordan and Yemen. IOMAX, originally contracted to supply 24 AT-802s to the UAE, has produced its armed and armoured Archangel, based on the Thrust 710P agricultural platform. The UAE operates both the AT-802 and Archangel.
Air Tractor says the AT-802 is economical to operate, at around $400 a flight hour. For counter-narcotics missions, AT-802s required only 1.7 maintenance man hours per flight hour.
The AT-504, meanwhile, is smaller than the AT-802 and features side-by-side seating to assist pilot training, unlike the tandem seating of the AT-802. It is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A engine delivering 750 shp, giving a useful load of 2 200 kg and a cruise speed of 150 mph.
Kenya recently received aircraft from the United States, in November last year receiving its first six Bell Huey II helicopters.