HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE KENYA AIR FORCE: PRE-INDEPENDENCE PERIOD

The Kenya Air Force was established on 1st June 1964 by an act of parliament, the Armed Forces Act Cap 199. Prior to this, the Kenya Air Force has a long history that dates back to 1st August 1940 when Eastleigh airfield was opened for full operation during World War II by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Other RAF stations that were opened at that time included RAF Kisumu, RAF Thika and RAF Mombasa. All these RAF stations were part of the larger Air Headquarters, East Africa (Nairobi) that controlled the territories of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and all the western Indian Ocean islands used for the war effort by the RAF.

After the war, RAF Easleigh doubled up as an important transit airfield for both military and civilian commercial flights. RAF Kisumu, RAF Thika and RAF Mombasa were closed due to economic pressure and lack of relevance. RAF Eastleigh became a major combat and air logistic base for the colonial power which controlled the three East African countries. From RAF Eastleigh, extensive aerial mapping of the East African region was conducted. During the agitation for independence in the early 1950s, the station became a major staging ground for air offensives against the Mau Mau insurgents. The air offensives ended in 1955 and the bombers returned to the Middle East and the UK. Thereafter rebuilding and restructuring of RAF Eastleigh commenced with the acquisition of new aircraft- the Beverlys and the Venoms.

The air force has a long history of aiding the civil power during times of national emergencies. During the 1961-62 large-scale famine that had hit Kenya due to excessive rainfall and nationwide flooding, the RAF Eastleigh was used to provide relief to the affected population. The No 21 squadron, equipped with four Beverly transport aircraft and assisted by four Dakotas from RAF Rhodesia, delivered 5 million lbs of food and medicine to the affected. Massive evacuations were also done in the Tana basin. In 1963, RAF Eastleigh supported the Government of the day against Somali separatists who had wanted to secede to Somalia , a situation aggravated by the 1961-62 floods and famine.

INDEPENDENCE AND POST INDEPENDENCE PERIOD

Shortlty after attaining independence on 12 December 1963, the Kenya Government sought assistance from Britain to form the Kenya Air Force. Subsequently on 19 May 1964, Group Capt Ian Sargenson was seconded to the RAF Eastleigh and appointed Commander designate. RAF Eastleigh was renamed KAF Eastleigh and so did the motto change from 'Shupavu na Thabiti ' to 'Twatumika Tukiwa Angani'

On 1st June 1964 the Armed Forces Act Cap 199 was enacted paving way for the formation of the Kenya Air Force with the primary mission of 'Defence of the Kenya Airspace during war and maintenance of sovereignty of that airspace at all times'. The act also gave two secondary missions to the Kenya Air Force, namely, 'To Support its sister services in pursuance of national objectives and to aid the civil authority during periods of national calamities, national undertakings and any other activity that may be specified'. Subsequently on the same day, Group Capt Ian Sargenson Stockwell was appointed the first Kenya Air Force Commander.

The new government was keen on rapid Africanisation and rebuilding of the newly formed Kenya Air Force. Recruitment of qualified young Kenyans and subsequent training in the UK in flying, engineering, supplies and general management was essential for capacity building. To cater for the increased requirement for indigenous pilots, a flying training unit was established at Eastleigh with a planned output of 10 pilots per annum. The unit was equipped with six Chipmunk and 3 Beaver aircraft for training purposes. In tandem with the flying training unit for aircrew, a ground-training unit was established to train technical manpower for the expanding Air Force. 80 technicians were produced annually. The expansion and modernization programme peaked up in the 1965/6 period when additional squadrons were created following the acquisition of 8 Beavers and 4 Caribou aircraft.

The first indigenous Kenya Air Force pilots graduated from the flying school on 18 February 1965 in a ceremony attended by HE the President, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Making history on that day were: James Mukirae, David Kanagi, Fredrick Omondi, Hannington Apudo and Dedan Gichuru who later became the first indigenous KAF commander. Since then, the school has remained the predominant producer of pilots for the Kenya Air Force. Click here for details on Flying Training School.

In pursuance of it primary and secondary missions the Kenya Air Force is organised into operational bases, Forward operating bases and a technical training college. Moi Air Base is an air transportation base while Laikipia Air Base is a fighter base. The bases are appropriately equipped with air and human resources to carry out their assigned roles.

EXPANSION OF THE KENYA AIR FORCE

On 25 February 1974 the Kenya Air Force experienced expansion with the opening of the Nanyuki Air Base as the main fighter base while KAF Eastleigh remained the main transport base. The strikemaster jet fighters were subsequently relocated to the newly formed KAF Nanyuki in June the same year. In the same year, the Air Force acquired the Hunter aircraft as its first-ever combat jet aircraft which were subsequently deployed at KAF Nanyuki. In October 1979, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wajir was opened for operations while FOB Mombasa and FOB Lokichoggio were established in 1986 and 1992 respectively to extend KAF operations. In 1981, KAFTU was reorganized to form the Kenya Defence Forces Technical College (DEFTEC) as the main technical training college for the Kenya Defence Forces.

Rapid expansion of the Kenya Air Force occurred from 1976 due to acquisition of new equipment and aircraft. The Buffalo and the Dornier aircraft were acquired in 1977. The F5 fighter jets, the Puma and the Gazelle helicopters were introduced in 1978. The hawk fighter jets were introduced in 1979. These expansion programme necessitated a high demand for pilots beyond the production capacity of the Flying Training School and hence ab-initio pilot training was sourced from the USA , France , India , Pakistan and Scotland between 1976 and 1981.

The service acquired a new face in 2000 following the integration of women in the Kenya Air Forceas officers and servicewomen after the disbandment of the Women Service Corps (WSC).

COMMANDERS OF THE KENYA AIR FORCE

The first post-independence, Kenya Air Force Commander, Group Capt Stockwell handed over command of the Kenya Air Force to Group Capt F Rothwell DFC TD on 22 February 1967 who later handed over to Group Capt David John Edwards CBE FC in August 1971. On 17 April 1973 Colonel Dedan Gichuru became the first indigenous Kenya Air Force Commander at age 30. He held office until 27 June 1980 when he handed over to Major General P M Kariuki.

It was during Major General Kariuki's time that some junior members of the Kenya Air Force were involved in an attempted coup to overthrow the government led by Spte Hezekiah Ochuka (29) and Sgt Pancras Oteyo Akumu (33). Both were found guilty and sentenced to death alongside three Corporals and a Sergeant. On 12 August 1982 Major General Kariuki was relieved of his appointment, tried by a court martial and sentenced to four years imprisonment on 18 January 1983. The coup attempt led to the disbandment of the Kenya Air Force and it's renaming to 82 Air Force with Major General Mohamoud Mohamed being appointed Commander. Also renamed was KAF Eastleigh and KAF Nanyuki stations to Moi and Laikipia Air Bases respectively.Others changes included the disbandment of GADU,change of Air Force uniform,flag and motto-from 'Twatumika Tukiwa Angani' to 'Tuko Imara Angani'

On 27 February 1986, Dedan Gichuru, now a Major General was appointed for the second time as the 7 th Air Force Commander a post he held upto 10 May 1989 when he retired from the service. He handed over to Major General D K Wachira. It was during Major General Wachira's time that the 82 Air Force reverted to it former name- The Kenya Air Force following a court ruling in which Capt Murungi had challenged its legality. Major General Wachira handed over to Major General N Leshan who held the office from 28 June 1994 to 1 December 2000 upon being posted to DHQ as ACGS and later on promoted to Lt Gen and appointed VCGS. Taking over was Major General S K Muttai who held office upto 27 November 2003 upon being posted to DHQ as ACGS. He handed over to Major General J W Karangi who held office upto 10 August 2005 upon promotion to Lt Gen and appointed VCGS portfolio. Major General H Tangai succeeded him on 10 August 2005 and served until 13 May 2011.

The current Air Force Commander is Maj Gen Joff Otieno who took office on 13 July 2011.

FLEET MODERNISATION

In pursuant of its mandate, the Kenya Air Force has maintained a modernization programme of its equipment in order to maintain a responsive and effective Air Force in a changing environment. Among the modernization programmes carried out include the acquisition of the medium lift DHC-5D Buffalo aircraft in 1977 to augment the DHC-4A Caribou transport aircraft; the acquisition of the F5 in 1978 and the Hawk in 1979; the acquisition of the Dash-8-100 (DHC-8) and the Tucano in 1990; the Fokker 70ER in 1995 and the Y-12 in 1997.

In addition to the aircraft modernisation programme, ground equipment and other weapon systems critical for mission fulfillment have being modernised.Air surveillance capability of the National Air Space was first attained in 1974 with the acquisition of long range Air Defence Radar systems which have been improved since then. In 1978,the Air Force acquired surface to Air misile capability with acquisition of SAMs fire units.

CONCLUSION

In addition to it's core functions and roles, the Kenya Air Force contributes to wider National objectives in many ways, namely, aid to civil authority; community service; sports; education; environmental issues; children issues; among others.

On 1st June 2004, the Kenya Air Force celebrated its 40th anniversary. The celebration was attended by HE the President and C IN C Hon Mwai Kibaki and provided a rare opportunity to reflect on past and present performance and achievements and to map out the wayforward for the service. MORE

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