- P14.8bn for BDF alone
- 8 – 12 Gripens needed
- P2bn for 45 Piranha tanks?
- Do we have security threats?
- What peace keeping missions?
The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi says that out of his proposed P22.4 billion budget the army will get the largest share of P14. 8 billion under the National Development Plan (NDP) 11
Making the comments in Parliament in his response to the NPD 11 debate Kgathi made specific reference to The Botswana Gazette reports on the proposed procurement of fighter jets and spy equipment.
The Botswana Gazette reported that the proposed purchases and President Ian Khama exerting pressure on government to procure fighter jets in respect of negotiations that have been ongoing for the past four years was met with Kgathi announcing in Parliament that the article was amongst other things “unpatriotic”: Therefore my plea to the Gazette newspapers which I respect very well (sic), is to get them to retract these malicious, false, unpatriotic and sensational headline (sic) to the effect that the BDF will spend P22 billion on Fighter Jets.”
Former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lt Gen Gaolathe Galebotswe confirmed before the Public Accounts Committee in June 2016 of the ongoing negotiations with Swedish aircraft manufacturer Försvarets Materielverk (FMV) for the acquisition of between eight and 12 JAS Gripen “C” and “D” aircraft variants to replace its ageing fleet of US-made F-5 fighter jets because BDF needed a competitive edge.
In May the Defence Blog publication also reported that BDF plans to spend up to P2 billion to purchase up to 45 Piranha 3 wheeled armoured vehicles from Swiss company General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS-Mowag).
According the Business Weekly, the new additions would increase the number of Piranhas in the BDF inventory to 90, as it already operates 45 others, which were delivered in 2003 and this would include cannons among the main armaments.
Also in February, The Sunday Standard reported that top BDF officials had visited the premises of French-based Company MBDA to witness the testing of its Mistral and VL MICA air defence systems ahead of possible acquisitions. The BDF was hoping to acquire the systems for a combined price of about P5 million, it reported.
Kgathi’s response in Parliament last week Tuesday, is notable in that he does not deny that the aggressive arms acquisition is going to happen, challenging rather the allocation of funds according to his understanding of the article in question.
Kgathi elaborated by stating that the BDF needs to purchase the fighter jets as a “long term investment cost serving (sic) measure to consider a multirole jet fighter, that is, capable of conducting the air-to-air, close air support, reconnaissance and air space policing missions.”
Recent reports reveal that top members of the Swedish Army and Saab, the manufactures of Gripen aircraft paid a visit to President Khama to discuss reasons behind their failure to deliver one second hand Gripen fighter jet ahead of the Bot50 celebrations at which they were supposed to conduct flight capability demonstrations for the independence revellers. Insiders indicate that Khama was unhappy by the company’s failure to deliver the aircraft.
Do we have security threats?
In his response Kgathi criticized Duma Boko, Wynter Mmolotsi and Dithapelo Keorapetse saying that they have displayed a limited understanding of the country’s security situation and threats.
He said that “the peace that this country is currently enjoying should not lead to a false sense of everlasting security and that history has actually taught us that there is no country which is free of threats and you can never predict the nature, the rate and the magnitude of change in the security environment.”
“It is therefore, critical for the BDF to acquire the level of capability required to respond to foreseen and unforeseen security environment. This House should not assume that in the absence of wars in the region there are no threats or conflicts or potential conflicts necessitating deterrence, denial and defence,” he added.
Kgathi stated that it is erroneously alluded that terrorism, cyber-attacks, cross border crimes fall within the exclusive domain of Police and related agencies, arguing instead that the Defence Force has a role to play when all these escalate to a level whereby they become a national security threat.
The critics of Kgathi’s desired military expenditure argue that the chances of Botswana going to war with its fellow SADC member states are non-existent considering its geo-political ties within SADC and beyond. They argue that in an economic sphere as well as a military one, the neighbours are too powerful for the Defence Force to pose as a military deterrent, a view supported by various US communique revealed on Wikileaks. Botswana has traditionally relied on close international alliances and relationships to protect its sovereignty due to its small population and military; an international foreign policy started by the late first President Sir Seretse Khama.
While Kgathi acknowledges the absence of security policies which are meant to guide such transactions and any specific looming threats, he avoids explaining why the decision to procure the fighter jets was never brought before Parliament for approval. While the BDF has been in existence for the past four decades it still does not have a National Security Strategy (NSS) a primary document from which the defence policy should be derived.
“The completion of the NSS should provide clarity and guidance on the existing security policies, such as the National Defence Strategy,” he said.
The possibilities of terrorism threats are unjustified and there is no explanation as to how Gripen fighter jets would be used to fight cyber-attacks or terrorist attacks on domestic soil. While the budget and mandate of the Directorate of Intelligence Service, Anti-Poaching Unit and the Police (SSG) also includes cross border crime the Minister of Defence avoids elaborating specifically on how the fighter jets would be used in such expeditions bearing in mind the argument that a military attack from our neighbours is unlikely. The BDF and related security forces have been praised in recent years on their effective border patrol operations that have seen the decline in crime mostly in the northern region where they are primarily concerned in curtailing the influx of Zimbabweans escaping the wrath of the country’s ailing economy.
The force has used drones and mini aircraft along with foot soldiers to prevent poaching which has been seen by most nations as a successful operation prompting relocations of rhinos from South Africa to Botswana.
What Peace Keeping Missions?
Kgathi goes further to state that in the past BDF has participated in United Nations peace keeping missions and that, “experiences arising out of these missions have taught us that force protection is of paramount importance in such missions. We should thus send into such missions a well-equipped and resourced defence force, capable of taking care of itself and those it sent to protect.”
He pointed out that the nature of the battlefield has transformed over the years, particularly in respect to technology, this necessitates the BDF replacing its aging and obsolete weaponry in particular the air defence, manoeuvre and communication systems and airspace surveillance.
Kgathi’s response completely avoids pointing out that for the past 10 years Botswana has never participated in militant peace keeping missions. According to the Botswana Government Portal on Peacekeeping Missions, the first mission was in 1992, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and Juba, South Sudan then BDF conducted operational exercises such as “Exercise Thokgamo” in June 2005 in which SADC member states participated while some of its personnel were serving on an African Union Liaison Mission in Ethiopia/Eritrea and a military observers role in Darfur, Sudan.
From 1993 to 1994, the BDF was deployed to Rwanda as observers only. The same year, BDF troops participated in a UN peacekeeping operation in Mozambique and ‘Operation BOLEAS’ a SADC military intervention in Lesotho in 1998.
Military experts posit that our lack of participation in peace keeping missions fails to justify the expense of an attack aircraft. Kgathi does not explain the use of the Gripen jet fighter, a heavily armed attack aircraft as opposed to cargo aircraft and helicopters traditionally used for peacekeeping missions.
“The Gripen is specifically used for reconnaissance and open terrain battle, it is also a bomber. The spending is misplaced for such missions,” says one military expert who declined to be named.
According to the National Interest Magazine, a military publication, SAAB announced in 2015 that it was seeking to dispose of between 200 -400 of the Gripen C and D model frames made obsolete by their newer model the JAS-39E/F Gripen NG. Botswana is seeking to purchase the former planes.