Botswana in negotiation with India for Tejas aircraft

Tejas mk2

The Tejas fighter plane, a result of India's indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program, has gained global recognition for its advanced capabilities and cutting-edge technology.

The Botswana Defence Force is in talks with India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with a view to acquiring several of its Tejas fighter planes.

In a move aimed at enhancing its defence capabilities, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is currently engaged in talks with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India’s state-owned aerospace and defense company.

The primary focus of these discussions is the potential acquisition of the advanced Tejas fighter planes manufactured by HAL. This collaboration between Botswana and India reflects a growing trend of nations seeking to modernize their defence forces through strategic partnerships and technological advancements.

When concluded, this business will be a significant milestone for India which has been seeking to sell cost-effective military hardware to African forces in a bid to enhancing it’s influence in the continent currently being dominated by China, Russia, and Turkey

Since 2013, the BDF has been attempting to replace its ageing fleet of fighter jets. The BDF currently deploys about 13 Former Canadian Northrop/Canadair CF-5D combat trainers (3 no’s) and CF-5A Fighters (10 no’s) acquired from Canada in 1996.

These jets were designed in the ’50s and produced in the ’60s and have been long retired from service since there is no production and in the operation, it is becoming expensive to maintain.

CF-5 jets are Canadair licensed-built versions of the American Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, while F-5 was mass-produced but CF-5s had limited production runs only for Canadian Air Force and do not have universally compatible parts with the F-5, adding to spare part procurement woes for current end users.

A Promising Collaboration

The Tejas fighter plane, a result of India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program, has gained global recognition for its advanced capabilities and cutting-edge technology.

Botswana’s interest in acquiring the Tejas jets highlights its commitment to enhancing its air force’s combat capabilities and underscores the nation’s recognition of the importance of advanced aerial defense systems.

Since 2013, the BDF has repeatedly voiced out its concerns about finding a suitable combat aircraft to replace its aging fighter jet fleet. The BDF operates 14 F-5A fighter jets and F-5D trainers bought from Canada in 1996.

BDF wants the newer aircraft in the context of neighbouring governments’ strengthening of their air forces. Zambia, for instance, upgraded eight MiG-21 fighters to the MiG-21-2000 version with the assistance of the Israeli business Israel Aerospace Industries, while Namibia received 12 Chengdu F-7NM fighters and two FT-7NM trainers, an enhanced copy of the MiG-21, from China. In addition, Zimbabwe ordered Chinese FC-1 fighter jets in 2004. 

Several aircraft manufacturer at the time pitched their products to the BDF, these includes General Dynamics with its F-16 Fighting Falcon, SAAB with the JAS 39 Gripen, Leonardo (formerly Alenia Aermacchi with the M-346 Master , and KAI with the T-50/FA-50.

HAL’s Tejas, a single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft, is designed to excel in both air superiority and ground attack missions. Equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, a modern glass cockpit, and an advanced radar system, the Tejas has already proven its mettle through successful operational deployments with the Indian Air Force.

Strengthening Botswana’s Defense

For Botswana, acquiring the Tejas fighter planes would mark a significant milestone in its defense modernization efforts. The BDF currently operates a fleet of older aircraft, and the addition of advanced fighter jets like the Tejas would enhance the country’s ability to protect its airspace, deter potential threats, and respond effectively in case of security challenges.

The Tejas’ advanced capabilities, including its ability to carry a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, precision-guided munitions, and smart bombs, would greatly enhance Botswana’s operational flexibility and combat readiness. These fighter planes can also provide valuable support in reconnaissance missions, ensuring enhanced situational awareness and intelligence gathering capabilities.

A cost saving measure was proposed in a report published in 2013 by the head of the BDF’s air arm, Major General Odirile Mashinyana, who had recommended upgrading the F-5 (BF-5) fighter fleet rather than acquiring new aircraft, due to funds constraints.

An attempt to procure F-16 Fighting Falcon jets In 2014 from the General Dynamics was vetoed by the US which stated that Botswana did not need such expensive military hardware, and that procuring the F-16 could potentially spark an arms race in the SADC region.

Also, endeavors to procure either the Swedish SAAB JAS 29 Gripen, or the Korean KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle lightweight fighter failed to materialize.

Some other Gaborone military officers were pitching a Gripen purchase because of its possible interoperability with Botswana’s neighbour, South Africa, which also employs the JAS-39C/D. The BDF could benefit from South Africa’s Gripen training and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) infrastructure.

Budgetary constraints also hampered efforts to acquire the Gripens since more funds would be needed to proceed with the acquisition, based on the requirement of the 2013 report.

Nevertheless, in November 2013, Botswana Minister of Defence Ramadeluka Seretse and other BDF officials met with South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) over the potential acquisition of the T-50 and FA-50 aircraft, which resulted in President Ian Khama visiting South Korea and KAI in October 2015. Interest in the KAI T-50/FA-50 fighter/trainer jet had diminished by 2016.

Closer Defense Ties between Botswana and India

The potential collaboration between Botswana and India in the defense sector goes beyond a mere acquisition. It signifies a strengthening of bilateral ties between the two nations, with defense cooperation serving as a critical pillar in their relationship. This strategic partnership holds the potential for knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and joint training exercises, which can benefit both countries’ armed forces.

Furthermore, the potential acquisition of Tejas fighter planes from HAL underscores India’s growing reputation as a reliable provider of advanced defense equipment. It highlights the country’s prowess in indigenous defense manufacturing and its willingness to engage in defense collaborations with friendly nations.

The Botswana Defence Force’s ongoing talks with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited regarding the acquisition of Tejas fighter planes reflect Botswana’s commitment to modernizing its defense capabilities.

The Tejas, renowned for its advanced technology and combat capabilities, has the potential to significantly enhance Botswana’s air force operations, bolster its security, and contribute to regional stability.

India’s HAL has been trying to sell the Tejas to Egypt since India and Cairo strengthened their relations a few months ago.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi as part of a state visit where he will meet business leaders and be a guest of honour at India’s Jan. 26 Republic Day.

Subsequently, in February, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman, Shri C.B. Ananthakrishnan, announced at Aero-India 2023 that the company is in talks with Egypt and Argentinian officials to secure a contract to supply 35 Tejas LCA Mk-1A to the nation’s armed forces.

The aircraft deal will see HAL supply 35 Tejas LCA Mk-1A to Egypt, as well as provide a complete transfer of technology (ToT) for Egypt to produce the aircraft locally. Egypt has projected a requirement for 20 aircraft.

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