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Supplier for US arms deal misrepresented war aircraft

An executive with a US aircraft firm misled Kenyan officials in regard to the type of planes to be included in Nairobi’s pending $418 million arms-package purchase, according to two sources in Washington.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that Chuck Miller, then-vice-president for business development with Texas-based Air Tractor, told the Kenyans last year that a weaponised and combat-proven version of his company’s agricultural aircraft was available from L3 Technologies, a major US military contractor.

In addition, photos obtained by the Nation appear to show L3 falsely depicting the type of plane sought by Kenya as its own product.

The photos show the L3 booth at last month’s International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The accompanying images depict a weaponised border-patrol plane known as the Archangel that is actually produced by a different company: North Carolina-based IOMAX.

Since the story broke out, Nairobi has been loudly silent on the matter and the government spokesman Erick Kiraithe said it was deliberate to do so.

“We would not want to discuss security procurements but the intention is to strengthen our capabilities which we cannot disclose to the public,” Mr Kiraithe told the Nation.

The Washington sources — one a federal official and the other a private-sector consultant — say the Kenyans were led to believe that the AT-802L Longsword planes made by Air Tractor in partnership with L3 are the same as the combat-proven Archangel aircraft that IOMAX produces.

In an interview with the Nation, Mr Miller denied misrepresenting the aircraft to Kenyan officials. He said he made a record of his briefing last year that shows “in no way did I lead them to believe [the planes weaponised by IOMAX] were L3 aircraft.”

SUPPLY CRUCIAL PLANES

Mr Miller added that he no longer works for Air Tractor. He said he left his vice-president job on January 3, which was almost three weeks prior to the State Department’s announced approval of Kenya’s proposed $418 million deal with L3.

A spokesman for L3 did not respond to our request for comment on the apparent misrepresentation shown in the IDEX photos.

Objecting to the proposed deal with L3, US Republican Congressman Ted Budd asserted last month that IOMAX is able to supply Kenya with the actual planes it is seeking at a price tens of millions of dollars lower than what L3 is charging for aircraft that have not been battle-tested.

IOMAX can deliver the full package of a dozen combat-equipped aircraft, two trainer planes and related elements and services for about $280 million, Congressman Budd said. That price would save the Kenyan government roughly $138 million.

The planned purchase became a matter of controversy after Mr Budd complained that IOMAX, a company based in the North Carolina district he represents, had not been given an opportunity to bid on the weapons package Kenya seeks for use in its war against al-Shabaab in Somalia.

An aide to the congressman charged that US officials steered Kenya toward L3, a giant and well-connected company. The arrangement “reeks of crony capitalism,” the aide said.

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