Queries raised over military choppers that have yet to fly

President Kibaki’s helicopter takes off at Kiganjo, Nyeri. The President uses the French-manufactured Puma helicopters that are reconfigured for VIP usage. Chinese Z-9 helicopters delivered in January have allegedly not flown. (Photo: Sunday Nation)

March 27, 2010, Nairobi -- Did Kenya buy defective helicopters from China? That is the question being asked by military engineers after it became apparent that eight Chinese choppers delivered to Nairobi in January have not been flown.

The helicopters were bought from a company that has previously supplied planes to Kenya.

However, the ministry of Defence said the helicopters had not been grounded but did not explain why they have not taken to the air three months after they were delivered.

“We wish to state that so far we do not have any Z-9 helicopters which are grounded,” the DoD spokesman Bogita Ongeri said in response to enquiries about the aircraft. But engineers at DoD said the military utility helicopters had never been airborne since they were delivered in January.

Sources at DoD said several of the eight helicopters were meant to beef up the VIP fleet that is usually at the disposal of the President, Prime Minister and the Vice-President.

Currently, President Kibaki uses the French-manufactured Puma helicopters that are reconfigured for VIP usage.

As military utility helicopters, the Z-9 have a variety of roles including ground attack, air assault, cargo, reconnaissance and troop transport. They can carry 10 armed soldiers.

VIP fleet

Engineers note that while they expected the “new” helicopters to reinforce the VIP fleet, they were disappointed that they had not flown three months after arrival.

“For three months we have waited for them to take to the skies but to no avail,” our source, who cannot be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said.

The Harbin Z-9 is a Chinese military utility helicopter licence-built version of the French Eurocopter Dauphin.

The first Z-9 flew in 1981, and was built in China by the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corp from components supplied by Aérospatiale.

This is the same French firm that supplied the Puma helicopters still in service for the Kenya Air Force.

The latest armed version, the Z-9WA, was introduced in 2005 and has night attack capabilities with an under-nose low-light TV and infra-red observing and tracking unit.

Information on the purchase of the choppers is contained in the latest factsheet of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which monitors worldwide purchase and transfer of military hardware.

Sunday Nation

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