US donating helicopters to the Zambia Air Force

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The United States has announced an $80 million grant to Zambia for the supply of four Bell 412EP helicopters to the Zambia Air Force (ZAF).

Commander of US Africa Command, General Michael Langley, made the announcement at the Africa Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference (ASELC), which the United States and Zambia co-hosted from 10 to 13 September. The annual conference convened senior enlisted leaders from approximately 30 African countries to discuss challenges and opportunities, including crisis response, rule of law, protecting natural resources, addressing instability, and strengthening security cooperation. Zambia is the first African nation to host the ASELC.

Africa Command said the helicopter grant also covers three years of service, parts, and training for the helicopters.

During a press conference, Zambia Air Force Deputy Commander, Major General Oscar Nyoni, thanked the US government for the donation, noting that the grant will enable the Zambia Air Force to better support the domestic needs of Zambia, regional security, and United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad.

US Ambassador to Zambia, Michael Gonzales said, “The contribution that the General announced today is not just helicopters. It is providing a solution for the Zambian military and the Zambian people.”

Zambia operates a diverse range of helicopters, including half a dozen Mil Mi-171Sh and Mi-171E troop transport and assault helicopters delivered from Russia between 2015 and 2017. The country is growing its rotary wing fleet and in February, Zambia ordered two Enstrom 480B helicopters from the United States for training pilots and personnel.

The Zambia Air Force has a substantial Bell/Agusta-Bell fleet, having operated many of their types over the decade. In the last couple of years, three Bell/Agusta-Bell 412 helicopters (AF717, AF718, and AF720) arrived from Italy and South Africa, joining a dozen surviving Agusta-Bell 205s.

In March, Zambia Air Force Commander, Lieutenant General Colin Barry, said the ZAF had concluded procurement procedures for a medium utility helicopter, which would be delivered in the coming months for troop movement, search and rescue, disaster relief, and other tasks: a second hand Bell 212 was delivered from the United States in June. The aircraft, AF721, was formerly operated by Era Helicopters in Canada and sold via US company Copter Lease LLC. Barry indicated another two helicopters would be subsequently acquired.

These will be used for medical support – in January the ZAF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Zambia Flying Doctor Services for the provision of aircrew, aircraft, maintenance personnel and specialised equipment and services to contribute to health care services in far-flung areas of the country. The ZAF regularly uses its helicopters for disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and medical evacuation both at home and in neighbouring countries – for example in Malawi following flooding.

A Zambia Air Force helicopter carries out a medevac following a vehicle accident.

During his two-day visit to Zambia this week, Langley met with Zambian Minister of Defence Ambrose Lufuma to discuss strengthening the US-Zambia security partnership. He also met members of the Zambia Defence Force (ZDF) to discuss women, peace, and security efforts in the Zambian military and to learn how the ZDF has been so successful in integrating women into all ranks and career fields. Langley also visited a US Agency for International Development (USAID) “Stop Gender-Based Violence” programme at Munali Boys Secondary School.

On 12 June, Lufuma travelled to Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and met with Langley. After the visit Africa Command Public Affairs said the southern African country was commended for its, “commitment to UN peacekeeping missions and other regional security missions, noting that Zambia is setting the example for others to follow with military professionalism and discipline.”

Previously, the government of Zambia has partnered with the US government on “several initiatives aimed at strengthening security cooperation. Through the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the United States has invested over $9 million in assistance for pre-deployment training for Zambian battalions supporting MINUSCA. The US also helped support and modernize the Kenneth Kaunda Peace Training Centre.”

Zambia is a part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique and the UN United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA.

Africom said the United States and Zambia share the goal of promoting peace and stability. “We commend the Zambian military for its outstanding commitment to UN peacekeeping missions, as well as serving as a global model for integrating women into its military. The United States looks forward to partnering with Zambia to strengthen bilateral security cooperation that benefits the Zambia Defence Force, the Zambian people, and the region.”