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through Girish Linganna

According to the website “African Intelligence,” the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is now in negotiations to purchase several of the Indian state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s TEJAS fighter aircraft. Numerous reports have been made about Botswana’s interest in the aircraft, but the website hasn’t offered any details on the deal.

The BDF has been striving to replace its outdated inventory of fighter jets since 2013. CF-5A Fighters (10 no.) and Former Canadian Northrop/Canadair CF-5D Combat Trainers (3 no.) are currently being used by the BDF, who purchased them from Canada in 1996.

In light of the neighbouring governments’ bolstering of their air forces, BDF desires the more modern aircraft. Israel Aerospace Industries helped Zambia upgrade eight MiG-21 aircraft to the MiG-21-2000 model, while Namibia received 12 Chengdu F-7NM fighters and two FT-7NM trainers, an improved version of the MiG-21, from China. Zimbabwe also placed a 2004 purchase for Chinese FC-1 fighter aircraft.

Botswana has regularly accused her neighbours’ air forces of violating its airspace. In 1990, helicopters from the South African Defense Force attacked a military installation in Botswana. Potential foes of Botswana include South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Z28 fighter squadron, which flies BF-5 fighters and is based at Maparangwane Air Base (Thebephatshwa Airport, Molepolole area), which is closer to South Africa, is under the direction of the Air Arm commander. (as designated in Botswana). The plane is primarily designed as a platform for ground attacks and daytime air superiority. Although the BDF rarely participates in international drills, it has the particular honour of lending some of its transport aircraft and helicopters to the UN for missions in Africa.

In 1977, when the country’s political situation deteriorated and there was considerable instability, the Botswana Self-Defence Forces air wing was formed. All squadrons were given the prefix Z, and the main base is in Molepolole, which was developed by foreign contractors between 1992 and 1996. Additionally, Francistown and Gaborone International Airport both have planes and helicopters stationed there. 13 former Canadian CF-116s were first delivered to Botswana. (Canadair CF-5). To replace the earlier BAC 167 Strikemaster, the aircraft arrived in 1996. In 2000, two combat trainers and three additional single-seat aircraft were supplied. Two F-5s are known to have crashed out of the 18 aircraft. It is unknown how 3 DF-5s are doing.

The Fighter Fleet’s Upgrade

The Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s evolving air power dynamics make the BF-5 obsolete from a strategic perspective, even if it is still cost-effective to keep using it. Although the BF-5 can be equipped with modern weaponry, a preliminary cost-benefit analysis showed that the BDF would not find it to be cost-effective.

However, in November 2013, the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) met to discuss the potential purchase of the T-50 and FA-50 aircraft. As a result, President Ian Khama visited South Korea and KAI in October 2015. By 2016, interest in the KAI T-50/FA-50 fighter/trainer jet was declining.

Parallel to this, a deal to buy 16 used F-16 Block 40 Fighting Falcon jets from General Dynamics was proposed, but the US rejected it in 2014, claiming that Botswana didn’t need such expensive military hardware and that buying the F-16 may start an arms race in the SADC region. At Tebe Fatshwa Air Base, a fleet of 10 F-5 Freedom Fighters would be joined by the F-16s.

Then, with Sweden offering eight to twelve JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion, Botswana turned its attention to Saab’s JAS-39C/D models. After that, between June 19 and 21, 2017, former Botswana President Ian Khama travelled to Saab’s Swedish headquarters where he met Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Sadly, after he left, the Gripen project was put on hold.

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