Njeru Githae meets US congressman Budd to iron out Sh42bn arms deal

Nairobi’s envoy to Washington met with the American politician seeking to block Kenya’s $418 million (Sh42 billion) purchase of military aircraft to fight Al-Shabaab.

United States Congressman Ted Budd and Kenya’s Ambassador to the US Robinson Njeru Githae had a “productive conversation” that lasted 45-minutes in the congressman’s office on Capitol Hill, said Mr James Braid, Mr Budd’s deputy chief of staff. Mr Githae was not available for comment.

The two men agreed to hold future talks, Mr Braid reported.

The Republican lawmaker has opposed Kenya’s pending deal with New York-based L3 Technologies.

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He argues that Iomax, a firm based in the North Carolina district that he represents, can supply superior planes at $130 million (Sh13 billion) below L3’s price.

“It seems clear that the contract was steered to L3” by a US Defence Department unit, Mr Braid said in his account of the meeting. Iomax was not given an opportunity to bid on the weapons package Kenya wants to buy.

Iomax and L3 have meanwhile supplied the Nation with details of the combat capabilities of their aircraft.

The armed border patrol aircraft manufactured by Iomax and designated the Archangel “has been a game changer in Yemen, Sinai, Syria and Libya, Mr Ron Howard, the company’s president and CEO, wrote in an email.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and Egypt operate 48 Archangels that Mr Howard said are “the only armed/ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) crop dusters in existence”.

He predicted: “If employed properly against Shabaab, the results will be devastating.”

The aircraft operates quietly high above a targeted area, where it can provide armed cover and conduct surveillance for up to 10 hours, he said.

An ideal sequence, he added, would involve the Iomax planes entering a contested area well ahead of ground forces to provide intelligence prior to, during and following an armed action.

“The aircraft is capable of employing laser-guided missiles and bombs with pinpoint accuracy from 20,000 feet while transmitting streaming video to the ground commander,” Mr Howard wrote.

L3 said in an emailed statement that its Air Tractor 802 Longsword aircraft “has a proven ability to support the ongoing military needs of the Kenyan government”.

L3’s aircraft has “a competitive advantage” in key respects, the company said. It carries a greater payload, achieves superior endurance and has a more powerful engine.

The Longsword is also certified by US aviation authorities to operate up to 10,000 feet higher than Iomax’s Archangel, L3 added.

The Texas-based plant where the Longsword is built has a 30-year history and employs more than 1,400 workers, the company said.

“We have a proven track record of delivering thousands of aircraft of scores of types for dozens of US and foreign government and commercial customers, including the Longsword ISR aircraft now operating overseas in combat,” L3 declared.

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