A group of lawmakers is planning to request a congressional investigation of a $418 million U.S. weapons sale to Kenya approved by the Obama administration on its last day in office.
The sale, approved by the State Department and privately notified to Congress on January 19, would allow Kenya to buy 14 weaponized crop-duster-like planes — including two trainer planes and services, for missions against terrorist group al-Shabaab.
The deal was publicly announced the Monday after Trump’s inauguration.
A handful of lawmakers, led by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), are questioning why the contract to produce the planes was awarded to major defense firm L3 Technologies — which has never produced such a plane — while a smaller, disabled veteran-owned company in North Carolina that already make those planes at a lower cost was not considered.
The Mooresville, N.C. company, IOMAX USA Inc., costed out 14 planes at $237 million dollars, according to a Budd aide.
“It looks like politics,” Budd said in a phone interview with Breitbart News on Monday. “Why are they sending it to someone that’s produced zero, for twice the price? This is inappropriate.”
Later this week, Budd and several other GOP congressmen are planning to request the non-partisan investigation.
It is not just Republicans puzzled by the matter. Georgia Democrat Sanford Bishop will join Republicans in signing a letter being sent to the Kenyan ambassador to the U.S. on Tuesday.
The letter, obtained first by Breitbart News, says, “We believe Kenya would benefit by exploring its options in regard to this acquisition.”
“We ask that the Government of Kenya take these facts, in particular the prospect of an ongoing congressional investigation of this sale, under consideration as it decides whether or not to proceed with this arms purchase,” says the letter.
The request for an investigation comes after the lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to figure out how the New York-based L3 received the “sole-source” primary contract, which means there is only one known source for the equipment requested, or only one single supplier that can fulfill the requirements.
IOMAX was unaware of the contract until the State Department, which approves all foreign military sales, publicly announced it on Jan. 23, the Monday after Trump was sworn in.
Typically, with a foreign military sale, an ally would notify and work with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a Pentagon agency, to request weapons.
DSCA would then work with the nation to specify requirements and write a Letter of Request for the weapons. The letter would be sent to an “implementing agency.” After price and other details are worked out, the Pentagon would issue a recommendation, and the State Department would approve or disapprove the sale. The DSCA would receive about a four percent cut of the total sale.
Lawmakers suspect, though have no evidence, that in this case, the implementing agency — an Air Force acquisition office, known as the “Big Safari” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, steered the contract to L3.
The Air Force directed all inquiries to DSCA and the State Department, which is in charge of the process.
A State Department official, in emails obtained by Breitbart News, said in justifying L3’s selection that the Kenyan Ministry of Defense “conducted extensive market research.” At the same time, the official said the State Department did not possess that research. An Air Force official also said in an email that it was not provided the market research.
Lawmakers question whether Kenya did its own extensive research. The aide said Kenya initially requested MOOG, an ordnance company, to produce the planes, according an Air Force response to congressional inquiries.
That request somehow got “clarified” to L3, who will modify the requested Air Tractor planes into weaponized versions.
“We believe that the Air Force likely did something that had MOOG get replaced with L3,” the aide said.
The aide said it doesn’t make sense, especially since IOMAX first began producing the weaponized planes in 2009 and has dropped more than 2,000 bombs on al-Shabaab already.
IOMAX had used the Air Tractor airframe in its earlier versions, but switched to Thrush, based in Albany, Georgia. It currently has almost 50 of the planes in service, including in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, the aide said.
The planes were first designed after the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment requested them for Yemen, the aide said. IOMAX’s founder, Ron Howard, is a retired Army aviator with the unit. He founded the company with his son in 2001.
Budd said he is looking out for jobs in North Carolina. IOMAX, which takes in about $1 billion a year in sales compared to L3’s $10 billion, has 115 employees in his district, with 49 percent of them veterans who make an average of $115,000 a year — many of them special operations forces veterans.
“Our first interest is to look out for jobs in the district. These are guys who are cutting sheet metal and doing rivets at the same time as those who are installing weaponized system…It’s a whole work force down there,” Budd said. “It’s infuriating that they’d be cut out of a deal like this.”
“They have to earn this deal on their own,” he added. “We can’t get the deal for them. But we want them to have a fair shot at it…They shouldn’t catch the brunt of politics.”
The L3 contract would primarily benefit its Platform Integration Division in Waco, Texas. An L3 spokesman did not respond to a phone call asking for comment.
Budd said the current deal is not a good one for the Kenyans either. He met with the Kenyan Deputy Chief of Mission last Monday, who was allegedly “flabbergasted” they were potentially paying almost $200 million more than necessary.
“We’ve had several Kenyans reach out and thank us,” he said.
Several Kenyan analysts also questioned the sale on Twitter, with the accompanying hashtag #KDFWeaponsScam. KDF is short for Kenyan Defense Force.
Although the 30-day notification period for Congress before a foreign military sale can go forth ended Sunday, lawmakers can still halt the sale by passing a resolution of disapproval.
Budd also introduced a joint resolution in the House earlier this month to halt the sale. If the resolution is adopted, it would be the first time Congress has voted to block a foreign arms deal since 1986.
Co-sponsors of the resolution include Reps. Meadows, Jones, Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), and Gary Palmer (R-AL).