AFM contributor Zac Hinchcliffe captured this very rare photo of an airborne Kenya Air Force (KAF) AH-1 Cobra. The attack helicopter was noted in the Laikipia region in the centre of the country.
The Kenyan AH-1 fleet remains secretive and its precise provenance has been the subject of some debate. The most reliable assessments indicate that the KAF received six former Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) AH-1Fs in 2017.
Images appearing online at the end of May 2017 showed an AH-1 in full KAF camouflage and markings at Laikipia Air Base, outside Nanyuki. The following month, a video appeared showing the helicopter undertaking its first test flight after reassembly at the base.
The KAF Cobras are operated by an attack helicopter squadron stationed at Laikipia AB, where they serve alongside F-5E/F Tiger II fighters of 15 Tactical Fighter Squadron. Other assets at the base comprise UH-1H Huey IIs (53 Tactical Helicopter Squadron) and AS550C3 Fennecs (655 Squadron). The base is also home to the Flying Training School athat operates the Grob G 120A-K, Hawk Mk52 and Tucano Mk51.
The AH-1s are due to be joined by six MD530F attack helicopters, under an order announced by MD Helicopters last September 27.
Attack helicopter expansion
The firm, fixed-price award is the second delivery order issued under a five-year, $1.4bn indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract. The deal includes initial logistics support for the aircraft, aircraft systems and ground support equipment.
First deliveries are scheduled to take place in April, and all aircraft are to be handed over to the KDF prior to the August 2019 contract completion date.
The IDIQ contract ensures an estimated quantity of up to 150 armed MD530F Cayuse Warrior and/or MD530G attack helicopters are available to US and partner nation military forces.
US State Department approval for the purchase of 12 armed MD530F Cayuse Warriors for operations by the KDF against al-Shabab insurgents and to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was granted in May 2017. The proposed contract was valued at around $253m including armament, logistics support and training.
Meanwhile, the KAF has taken delivery of nine AS550C3 helicopters. A reception ceremony took place at Laikipia last September 14. According to the MoD, the helicopters will be used for security operations as well as combat search and rescue, casualty and medical evacuation. They are also said to be capable of “combat air escort for heavy-lift helicopters”, but initial photos showed them in an unarmed configuration.
Originally expected to comprise former UAE Air Force and Air Defence AS350Bs, the aircraft delivered to Kenya appear to be armed AS550C3s, suggesting they may have been funded by the UAE rather than provided second-hand. By October 2018 photographs had emerged showing the Fennecs fitted with weapon pylons and unguided rocket pods.