Kenya Airforce a threat to life

The aviation industry describes the Kenya Airforce as, “an ancient fleet.” The newest aircraft owned by the Kenya Airforce were bought in the 1990s. The oldest came into service when Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Kenya Airforce has used this Bulldog training aircraft for over 30 years.

Kenya Airforce has used this Bulldog training aircraft for over 30 years.

The rickety nature of the Kenya Airforce was highlighted recently when a Puma helicopter carrying President Mwai Kibaki began spewing thick smoke from its turbine engine. Luckily, the pilot managed to bring down the aircraft without loss of life.

In a stage managed leak to Kenya’s media, the Airforce claimed that the smoking engines were not a result of its maintenance procedures and that the President had never been in any real danger. “The smoke was probably caused by an engine seal,” said the source who obviously could not be named.

Kenyans should expect more of such near-disasters unless the military embarks on a serious strategy to revamp the Airforce.

The Puma helicopters that the President flies are quickly approaching the end of their service life, having flown for almost 30 years. They are good machines that have played a role in military operations, disaster relief and rescuing stranded persons on land and water. However, there is a limit to how long a machine can be used.

The De Havilland Buffalo transport aircraft were also acquired in the 1970s and are approaching the final curtain of their lives. There are no immediate plans to acquire new aircraft to fulfil the useful roles played by the giant Buffalo planes. It was a Buffalo that was sent to Mombasa in August 1978 to bring to Nairobi the body of founding president Jomo Kenyatta. The story illustrates the age of these aircraft.

During the Moi presidency, the Airforce – which had been renamed the 82 Airforce – bought several De Havilland Dash 8 transport aircraft. However, these can only be used as VIP passenger transports and cannot fulfil the role of the Buffalo. The Buffalo can drop paratroopers and other supplies in operation zones, which the Dash 8 cannot do without substantial modification.

All Kenya Airforce pilots undergo basic flight training in British-built Bulldog light aircraft. These, again, were bought in the 1970s and possibly even earlier than that.

The Airforce has a fleet of Tucano turboprop trainer aircraft bought in the late 1980s to help trainee jet fighter pilots adapt from the basic controls of the Bulldog. The Airforce also flies and maintains the Fokker 100 Presidential jet bought in 1995.

The newest aircraft owned by the Kenya Airforce today are the Harbin Y-12 light transport planes bought from China in 1997. The Y-12s replaced a fleet of piston engine Dornier Sky Servants.

The flying of old aircraft is not the only issue plaguing the Airforce. The Moi Airbase (MAB) in Eastleigh is a disaster waiting to happen. The airport was built by the British long before independence, at a time when its current location formed the eastern limits of Nairobi. Today, Nairobi has expanded 20 kilometres east of Eastleigh and the Moi Airbase is now regarded as “inner city.”

Airforce pilots have to negotiate corners past skyscrapers as they descend to land at Moi Airbase. At the opposite side of the runway, Kenya Airforce planes find themselves flying above rooftops of city suburbs as soon as they leave the runway.

What is even more worrying is the fact that trainee pilots using Bulldog aircraft are trained at Eastleigh. It is just a matter of time before somebody makes a mistake that could result in another big disaster.

In 1992, a Buffalo transport aircraft with at least 40 people crashed into Kaloleni Estate. More fatalities included people in their homes. The aircraft had taken off from Eastleigh but the pilot decided to turn back on detecting engine problems. The Buffalo flew over Nairobi city centre before crashing in Kaloleni. If the crash had occurred in downtown Nairobi, casualty figures would have been much higher.

A number of smaller incidents have occurred since then. A few years ago, a boy standing on a garbage heap near the runway was hit and killed by a low-flying jet fighter. The fighter jet lost control and crashed but its pilot survived.

Aviation experts recommend the relocation of Moi Airbase from its current site to avoid impending disaster.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Airforce is purchasing second hand fighter jets from Jordan.

There are many reasons why the Airforce is unable to buy new aircraft to match developments in aviation. Government procurement rules have made the procurement process extremely tedious. Interested players within political circles have also made military purchases tricky. A good example is the status of the Kenya Navy ship, the KNS Jasiri, which is currently rotting in Spain because of disputes between the Kenya government and the ship’s builder

Controversies over military purchases are worsened by big world powers such as the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China. A major power can punish a country like Kenya merely for buying weapons from a competitor. Wherever you choose to spend your military budget will determine whether you are treated as a friend or foe by the big powers. It is that serious.

Another reason for malaise within the Airforce could simply be inertia within the government. Kenya’s leadership is filled with people who beleive in recycling old systems that have outlived their usefulness. The adage “old is gold” certainly does not apply to technology.

Clearly, it will be quite some time before Airforce pilots get to fly modern aircraft. This may affect their competitiveness when they are looking for jobs after military service. It is the equivalent of a pilot saying that he/she is an expert in the Boeing 707 or the DC-3. Which airline flies such aircraft anymore?

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34 Responses

  1. To quote you:
    “There are many reasons why the Airforce is unable to buy new aircraft to match developments in aviation. Government procurement rules have made the procurement process extremely tedious. Interested players within political circles have also made military purchases tricky.”

    For a moment there, you almost stated the REAL reason but just stopped shy of doing so.

    The truth is that senior politicians in the Kenyan Government in collaboration with senior military officials have since Independence corruptly made their billions from kickbacks that arise from purchasing second-hand, dilapidated aircrafts and other defence hardware from European/Asian Countries. And this has always been done with blessings from the overreaching Office of the President.

    Safety, functionality or technology is the last thing on these officials minds and you can now see the legacy of this corruption culture. Kenyans will pay with their lives.

  2. I have always harbored aspirations of working in the airforce but if ‘miraculously’ i were to actually find myself in,I would pray that the status quo remain as it is-’untested by war’ till I retire.Hebu imagine having to go against a foe with the following credits: 24 years old,IQ of 175 maybe,aced his O and A levels,went to US or Russia for advanced jet training and finally he or she is sitting in anything ‘post-F-16′ !!!! Frankly speaking,the dogfight, if any-coz a 30year old F-5 is no match for anything these days, would last no more than 25 seconds!What am simply trying to say is,if we’re gambling with food,justice,education and such,please let’s atleast not do so with our security!! Especially now with things like ‘the Migingo saga’!

  3. i can not keep on readind and watching the happenings within the kenya millitary,
    no wonder kenya can not even protect it self,it prides it self for having professoinal solders who can not even a bold step in solving the migingo raw.

    kenya is able to be one of the best millitary in africa but beaucracy is killing it.
    i think kenya has most obsolete millitary hardwares in africa.am so suprised even that millitary can not make proposals to the goverment on what equipment they need.

  4. i can not keep on reading and watching the happenings within the kenya millitary,
    no wonder kenya can not even protect it self,it prides it self for having professoinal solders who can not even take bold step in solving the migingo raw.

    kenya is able to be one of the best millitary in africa but beaucracy is killing it.
    i think kenya has most obsolete millitary hardwares in africa.am so suprised even that millitary can not make proposals to the goverment on what equipment they need.

  5. I find this whole debate about kenya not being able to defend herself hillarious- but with a tinge of seriousness. I believe that the soldiers,airmen and sailors are ready,able and willing to take on adverseries, BUT if they are not released to do their job by the politicians for whatever reason, then we have no business belittling them. I find it sad that we like a lot of our neighbours, underestimate our military. There is a saying the you cannot appreciate your buttocks until you get a boil in the same place. Lets appreciate what we have and look at the positive side of things – the western powers and chinese with whom our military interact have always given and still do give high marks to our military personel for their professionalism – the south africans in 1989 – 1992 were amazed in namibia that there could be highly skilled and professional soldiers apart from themselves. As somebody indicated earlier ( check on wikipedia about the f-5 and users) THE F-5 are good fighters and are always upgraded in latest avionics – there is a miltary magazine in the us that refers to the americans being in kenya annualy upgrading our fleet. In fact though the airframes of our airforce fleet is old – note that our equipment as measured in African and Asian terms is relatively good and new. Felix is absolutely right when he describes our military as among the best in africa – lets look at them with a different attitude.

  6. with all due respect to the kenyan armed forces,we need a lot of new weapons cause we are living in a dangerous zone(somalia and uganda)so we need to buy atleast some american apaches,a B-52 bombers,F-16 jets to atleast kno how to handle these friends

  7. Isaac, the B-52 is a strategic bomber(inter-continental) why would Kenya need it? Unless we plan to fight a war with far flung enemies in Europe, Asia and the Americas i don’t see how having one makes sense. For the F-16′s at least that’s a sober suggestion but there’r a lot of factors to consider e.g. the technological advancement of your neighbors, you ability to train ground crews to support such an aircraft, the strength of the economy in relation to such a purchase among others, same goes for the Apaches.
    You quoted Somalia and Uganda as your nightmares. How will B-52′s Apaches and F-16′s win that war in case we were to go to war? Uganda has no Air Force, Somalia too. what you need to advocate for is better armour and anti-amour capability not aircrafts. I am not saying aircrafts are not important but African wars are mostly terrestrialthan air.

    • Actually the air force of Uganda is very much alive and kicking. It has Mig-21′s and plenty of transport helis/fixedwing which ok is not that great, but it recently purchased a number of Su-30MK2 air-superiority fighters. I agree that f-5′s can do alright in Somalia as they would only be needed for ground support but they would also need to be able to take the AA guns and their air frame isnt that strong.

    • Kenya needs the F-16 more than ever. A large, advanced, and well equipped airforce is better than 100,000 men infantry. Israel uses the same strategy, besides NATO, and US.

      Operation Kadesh
      Operation Kadesh in1965 saw the Israeli Air Force help IDF win the Suez crisis war.
      In three hours on the morning of June 5, 1967, the first day of the Six Day War, the Israeli Air Force executed Operation Focus, crippling the opposing Arab air forces.

      War of Attrition
      When Egypt initiated the War of Attrition in early 70′s, the Israeli Air Force consequently undertook repeated bombings of strategic targets deep within enemy territory and repeatedly challenged Arab air forces for aerial supremacy, all the while supporting operations by Israel’s ground and naval forces. On July 30, 1970, the tension peaked: An IAF ambush resulted in a large scale air brawl between IAF planes and MiGs flown by Soviet pilots – five MiGs were shot down, while the IAF suffered no losses. Fear of further escalation and superpower involvement brought the war to a conclusion.

      Yom Kippur War
      During the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, the Israeli Air Force shot down 334 enemy warplanes in air-to-air combat for the loss of only five of its own. A further 180 Arab aircraft were shot down or lost due to circumstances other than aerial combat.IAF managed to assist IDF ground forces, and kept up strikes on targets in Syria and Egypt.

      Operation Opera
      Most of Israel’s military aircraft are obtained from the United States. Among these are the F-4 Phantom II, A-4 Skyhawk, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon. On June 7, 1981 eight IAF F-16A fighters covered by six F-15A jets carried out Operation Opera to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osiraq.

      Operation Mole Cricket 19
      On June 9, 1982 the Israeli Air Force carried out Operation Mole Cricket 19, crippling the Syrian air defence array. In subsequent aerial battles against the Syrian Air Force, the IAF managed to shoot down 86 Syrian aircraft without losing a single fighter plane in an air to air combat. IAF AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships destroyed dozens of Syrian armored fighting vehicles and other ground targets, including some T-72 main battle tanks.

      With NATO air power, Libyan army was incapacitated leading to the bloody ouster of Qaddafi.

      France bombed Laurent Bgabo army positions in the airport and his compound to help Quatara forces.

      NATO wont venture into Syria since it has a huge fleet of MIG’s and modern air defenses from Russia.

      That’s why a superior Kenya Air force armed with a large fleet of F-16s is good. We have Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, and Eritrea proving themselves as hostile neighbors…do you agree….?

  8. Hi

    I do not know what war games are studied at DOD, and one does not need to be a guru to know that a country like Kenya does not need fighter Jets, Given our current scenario unless we had very modern craft which we cannot afford to buy let alone maintain, all we need are Helicopter gunships,

    There is no Scenario in our current circumstances that require a fighter jet except for national day display and Airshows, on this matter i do not stand to be corrected

    • No scenario? Yes because what is there acts as a deterrent to would aggressors. Expose yourself and live to regret the consequences. Which neighbour doesn’t have an air-force however ancient it might be?
      Fighter jets and helicopters serve different purposes.

  9. as u said, “I do not know what war games are studied at DOD” so i won’t respond to your comments.

  10. Our defence force is very important. The Govt should give a priority to our Armed Forces.

  11. kenya was one of the very first countries i africa to have an established airforce in early 1960s.our military proffesionalism was ranked one of the best during sierra-leone peace keeping missions.This means that we should not stand any form of insults from any country.why don we have a military day to showcase our military strength ??? i can’t wait for this.

  12. ok guys, i think we’ll all agree that the kaf fleet is way too old..besides, there’re modern versions of the f5, like the Brazilian f5em with advanced avionics and radar systems..so i don’t see how buying junk jets helps.so sad.

  13. hehe. this is very funny. just explains everything.

  14. you know This is so ironic. just explains everything.

  15. Hi to all? Id like to paticipate in this discusion. Its true kenya need to modernise its air force to march with todays world. According to whats happening kenya has equared 15 f 5s from jordan to add to the 7 in service, kenya has also taken the delivery of 4 Z-9w attack from china which arrived in late january. They are also some unconfermed news that kenya may also order 25 f 15e from USA Due to the unstable situetion in horn of africa,and the news about uganda has ordered six SU 33MK Strike aircraft from russia.

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  17. kenyans should be grateful, for having a country that has been free from external aggression, although our Air power needs to be updated, it meets the current regional demand, i am a fomer airman and i was serving when the F5s arived, just before the death of Mzee Jomo Kinyatta, by then kenya was amongst the very first countrys to buy them, the country was so proud of our Air Force,we still are because the jets are capable of most operations.

  18. In Boston. Kenya should expect more from the USA with Obama.

  19. osamas death has prompted me to try n gauge my millitary, as a tax payer. there is talk of purchasing israeli made uavs. we need top-notch surveillance gear along the border with somalia. the alshabaab insurgency in somalia must be significantly diminished now.

  20. You guys,i would suggest that we be a little patriotic.we should love our country and appreciate what it has.althoug we are not the best and need to improve,we are better than many.we should not expect kenya to invade migingo to prove themselves,war is very costly.all in all kenya air force needs serious improvememt but long live kenya air force

  21. in light of the current situation with Uganda, it would be foolish to start a feud over Migingo island, our leaders i suspect have decided to tactically sit this one out, therefore i dont think at current, Kenya needs to go out for any mega war avionics. But we should without a doubt upgrade our airforce and move our airbase.

  22. in light of the current situation with Uganda, it would be foolish to start a feud over Migingo island, our leaders i suspect have decided to tactically sit this one out, therefore i dont think at current, Kenya needs to go out for any mega war avionics. But we should without a doubt upgrade our airforce and move our airbase…

  23. Morning Sir/Madam,

    I am Joseph Gichuhi Njagi and its my out-most wish to join the military department.

    I’ve keenly been following advertisements and proceedings of the armed forces, which makes me wish to be part of the forces.

    This year, unfortunately for me, there wasn’t an advert on the daily papers for the recruitment of the tradesmen/tradeswomen into the

    armed forces.

    I am a proffessional in electrical works since, currentry, I work in a reputable busy company as an electrician.

    I have a diploma in electrical engineering with 4 years experience.

    Last year, I was lucky to be shortlisted in the papers, unfortunately, I came to realize it when it was too late.

    This email has all my hope. Diligently, I’ll serve my country to the best of my self. I am physically fit, strong and healthy, having met all

    the conditions laid down for the successful candidate. I am 26 years of age.

    Protecting our territory has always been my dream. It is my greatest wish and hope that you’ll reply this mail.

    Thank you. May God bless you.

  24. Hi this is Goddy, imagine i had really believed your story and was really scared as a Kenyan especially being a citizen of a country with no defense.
    i was actually wondering if you were telling the truth about the status of our military. it now goes without say that maybe you did not have the right information about our military and would wish that you comment on other development issues. this will help our peaceful country. Al Shabaab can tell you the ability of our forces and anyway why would you live on this world equiping yourself for war?

  25. hi guys!am happy that there are people who like our military as i do.I wish to contribute to this debate. I personally passionately want to serve in the Kenya Air Force. It is true that we need to upgrade our Air Force. This doesn’t however mean that our air force is not ready, able and trained enough to to deter any external aggression!Our air men equally trained and am proud of them. However, our political leaders need to put the security of our nation in first. We should never take our security for granted even when peace seems to prevail. Our military(esp. air force) needs to be the first in changing with technology in the region and Africa. We have money for God’s sake that can at least buy F16′s and the Brazilian improved F5′s if we stopped corruption. i wish had the chance of being the deciding authority..however,long live Kenya Air Force and military in general. We are praying for you and am convinced we will win the war,i mean operation, against al-shabaab.

  26. hi guys, i have dreamth of flying a bomber since i was a kid- well our military need sirious upgrade, you dont have to make spontanious procurement when you direly need it thats when in trouble only we should have mordan planes even if we are not planning to go to war, for this we should not request, it should have been done long ago.

  27. shame u have 2 style up guyz. u considered awell of country in eastern africa.

  28. There are no plans to replace buffalo aircrafts in airforce and their engines are due for overhaul by 31st July. Thats how serious this matter is. They are a disaster in the waiting.

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