GABORONE, Botswana — The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has confirmed negotiations with Swedish aircraft manufacturer Försvarets Materielverk (FMV) are underway 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.

The confirmation was made by BDF commander Lt. Gen. Gaolathe Galebotswe when he appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to give evidence on defense spending and the state of the equipment at the disposal of the force.

Galebotswe said in its quest for a replacement to the aging F-5 fleet that the BDF visited aircraft manufacturers in the US, Russia and China before settling on the JAS Gripen.

"The Gripen fits our requirements and could give us a certain edge over our competitors. F-5s have become unsustainable for the BDF. We needed something that is cost-effective but still capable of carrying out our aerial defense mandate because we should have the capability to operate in both contested and uncontested space. I am talking about revitalizing BDF," Galebotswe said.

"The current F-5 planes once gave us the essential reach in terms of air defense capabilities. In looking for a replacement, we considered the [US-made] F-16, Russian MiG variants, the [JAS] Gripen and some Chinese jets. The Gripen was found to have the lowest operating costs," he said. "So if this deal happens, it will be between the governments of Botswana and Sweden."

The cost of the possible contract between the BDF and FMV is estimated at US $1.7 billion. According to Galebotswe, there are no middlemen involved in the ongoing negotiations between the governments of Botswana and Sweden.

The commander also said the high costs incurred in procuring military equipment from abroad could be reduced if the government established a local defense equipment industry. He said the BDF needs to acquire more equipment to replace obsolete equipment that has become expensive to maintain.

According to Galebotswe, Botswana is living in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment where the military has to be equipped and ready to defend the country at all times.

Among other plans, the BDF wants to spend up to P2 billion (US $179 million) to purchase up to 45 Piranha 3 8x8 armored wheeled vehicles (APC) from Swiss company General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS-Mowag). The Piranha was developed by GDELS' Swiss subsidiary, Mowag Motorwagenfabriken. More than 8,000 variants of the advanced armored wheeled vehicles, which come in 6X6, 8X8 and 10X10 wheeled configurations, have been sold globally since its inception.

According to local newspaper 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.

The media outlet reported that the BDF plans to acquire turreted Piranha 3 variants, which would feature 30mm cannons among the main armaments.

Three months ago, the Sunday Standard, a local private newspaper, 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 defense systems ahead of possible acquisitions. The BDF was hoping to acquire the systems for a combined price of about P5 million.

The BDF's search for new military hardware has also taken it to South Korea as it shows interest in modified K2 Black Panther main battle tanks.

In February this year, Botswana announced a P3.59 billion budget for the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security. In his presentation, Finance and Development Planning Minister Kenneth Matambo said part of the funds allocated would be used to fund the acquisition of new military hardware to replace the generally outdated systems presently deployed to defend the country.


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