Kenya Air Force
Jeshi la Wanahewa
Badge of the Kenya Air Force
Founded1 June 1964; 59 years ago (1964-06-01)
Country Kenya
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size149 Aircraft
Part ofKenya Defence Forces
  • Tuko Imara Angani
  • "We are firm in the sky"
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Dr. William Samoei Ruto
Commander of the Air ForceMajor General John Mugaravai Omenda
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
FighterNorthrop F-5
HelicopterMil Mi-28[1] Mil Mi-171, SA330 Puma, Bell UH-1, Eurocopter AS350 , AgustaWestland AW139
Attack helicopterBell AH-1
ReconnaissanceCessna 208
TrainerScottish Aviation Bulldog, Short Tucano, Grob G 120
TransportDHC-5, Harbin Y-12, C-27J Spartan, Fokker 70, Bombardier Dash 8, C-145 Skytruck

The Kenya Air Force (KAF) or Swahili: Jeshi la Wanahewa[citation needed] is the national aerial warfare service branch of the Republic of Kenya.

The main airbase operating fighters is Laikipia Air Base in Nanyuki, while Moi Air Base in Eastleigh, Nairobi is the headquarters. Other bases include Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mombasa (Moi International Airport), FOB Mandera, FOB Wajir & FOB Nyeri (mainly helicopters/small planes).

The Kenya Air Force flies some two dozen F-5E/F Tiger II fighters, a dozen Tucano trainers, half a dozen G120A basic trainers.

Kenya also flies small numbers of other different types, such as Pumas, Mi-17s etc. Recent acquisitions include AW139, AS350 FENNEC,[2] UH-1H helicopters, H124M Fennec,[3] MD530Fs[4] and C-27J Spartan transports.[5]

In 2017 Jordan donated 2 confirmed AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters[6] for the air force; these together with the Army's 50th Air Cavalry helicopters are controlled by the Joint Helicopter Command based at Embakasi Garrison.


The Kenya Air Force was formed on 1 June 1964, soon after independence, with the assistance of the United Kingdom.[7][8]

Former aircraft in service included de Havilland Canada Chipmunks and Beavers (since 1974), six Hawker Hunters (bought from RAF, in operation from 1974–79), six BAC Strikemaster fighters (in operation from 1971), and 12 BAE Systems Hawks delivered in 1980. All these types have now been withdrawn.

As a result of the war over the Ogaden region between Ethiopia and Somalia and tensions with neighboring Uganda, the Kenya Air Force ordered 10 F-5Es and 2 F-5Fs in 1976. Deliveries took place in 1978 and give Kenya's air force an interceptor capability for the first time in its history. Two F-5Fs were delivered as attrition replacements in July 1982. From 1979–1982 President Daniel arap Moi used Northrop F-5 fighter jets to escort his flights in and out of the country; later commentators have pointed out that there was no threat justifying the waste of fuel and the difficult and complex requirements of the escort mission.[9]

After a failed coup by a group of Air Force officers on 1 August 1982, the Air Force was disbanded. Air Force activity was reconstituted and placed under tighter army control as the 82 Air Force. The Air Force regained its independent status in 1994.

On 10 April 2006 a KAF Harbin Y-12 crashed near Marsabit with 17 on board, of whom 14 died. It was carrying several local and national politicians; Bonaya Godana, a former minister, was among the casualties. The pilot in command was Major David Njoroge.

Since 1978, the F-5 has been the KAF's main air defence fighter. A total of 29 were delivered: 12 F-5E & 2 F-5F from the US, and 10 F-5E, 3 F-5EM, & 2 F-5F formerly in service with the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF). The ex-RJAF aircraft were upgraded to F-5EM standard before being delivered to the Kenya Air Force. There was controversy over the purchase of the F-5s from Jordan, which were shipped to Kenya and assembled locally,[10] Currently a F-5 upgrade and procurement program is underway for 10 F-5E, 2 F-5F, and 3 F-5EM from Jordan.

The helicopter fleet has been improved thanks to foreign aid. KAF received up to six Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) AH-1Fs in 2017. In 2016 8 Bell Huey II helicopters were approved to be delivered to Kenya Air Force as part of US security cooperation program in sub-Saharan Africa. One of them, UH-1H-II serial KAF-1503, crashed and was written off. The Kenya Air Force 53 Tactical Helicopter Squadron has taken delivery of 6 out of 8 Huey UH-1H helicopters. Meanwhile, the KAF also received 9 AS550C3 helicopters that will be used for security operations as well as combat search and rescue, casualty and medical evacuation. Originally KAF was expected to purchase former UAE AS350Bs, but the new AS550C3s can be armed and may have been also funded by the UAE. By October 2018 photographs had emerged showing the AS550 Fennecs fitted with weapon pylons and unguided rocket pods. [11]

The US government approved a proposed foreign military sale for twelve Air Tractor AT-802L light-attack aircraft to the government of Kenya. As of August 2017, the Kenyan government has not yet signed a contract for the proposed sale. Also early 2017 Kenya signed contract for 3 C 27j & 3 AW 139 to be delivered this year[12]

The United Arab Emirates' Global Aerospace Logistics (GAL) signed an agreement in 2019 with the Kenya Air Force to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for its aircraft.


Current inventory

A Mil Mi-171E at Wilson Airport
A Kenyan Y-12
A Kenyan UH-1H huey
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Northrop F-5 United States fighter F-5E 23[13] six F-5Fs provide conversion training
Harbin Y-12 China transport 8[14]
C-27J Spartan Italy transport 3[13]
Cessna 208 United States light utility 4[13] 2 aircraft used for reconnaissance
C-145A Skytruck Poland Spec Ops[15] 3[13]
Fokker 70 Netherlands VIP transport 1[16]
Bombardier Dash 8 Canada VIP transport 3[13]
Bell UH-1 United States utility UH-1H 7[13]
Bell AH-1 United States attack AH-1F 2[13] donated by Jordan[17]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility / transport Mi-171 2[13]
Harbin Z-9 China utility 6[13]
SA 330 Puma France utility / transport 13[13]
MD 500 Defender United States light attack 530F 45[13]
Eurocopter AS350 France COIN / utility 9[13]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy SAR / utility 3[13]
Trainer Aircraft
Short Tucano United Kingdom trainer Tucano 51 11[13] licence-built variant of the EMB-312
Grob G 120 Germany trainer 120A / TP 5 / 9 2 120TP’s on order[13]

Rapid Deployment Squadron

The Rapid Deployment Squadron (RDS) is the newest special forces unit among all three branches of the Kenya Defence Forces.[citation needed] It is predominantly tasked with the recovery of downed airmen in hostile territory but it can carry out other specially assigned tasks.[18] The unit was conceived and developed after a downed pilot went missing in action in Southern Somalia. The F5 fighter jet developed mechanical problems and crashed in Al Shabab held territory, while the wreckage was found the pilot remained unaccounted for despite him managing to eject from the aircraft.[citation needed] This led to the need of a tactical quick response unit to respond in such incidences as the search and rescue mission for the downed airman was hampered by the lack of a dedicated response unit.[citation needed]

This Rapid Deployment Squadron is headquartered at Laikipia Air Base where Kenya's main fighter squadron is also based. The unit also maintains a Forward Operating Base at Wajir Airport in North Eastern Kenya.

See also


  1. ^ "A Look at KDF's Mi-28 Havoc Attack Helicopters Delivered from Russia – Strategic Intelligence Service".
  2. ^ Kenyette, Patrick (5 September 2018). "Kenyan Air Force acquires eight AS350 Fennec helicopters from UAE". Military Africa. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  3. ^ "Kenyan Air Force acquires H125 Écureuil and an AS550C3 Fennec (H125M) from Airbus Helicopter". Military Africa. 17 October 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  4. ^ Kenyette, Patrick (25 January 2020). "Kenya Defence Forces induct MD 530F helicopters". Military Africa. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  5. ^ Kenyette, Patrick (5 February 2020). "Kenyan Air Force receives two C-27J Spartan tactical airlift aircraft". Military Africa. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  6. ^ Lionel, Ekene (1 June 2017). "Kenyan Air Force acquires AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter secretly". Military Africa. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Historical Background of the Kenya Air Force: Pre-Independence Period". Ministry of Defence- Kenya. 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Historical Background of the Kenya Air Force: Independence and Post-Independence Period". Ministry of Defence- Kenya. 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2016.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Escorting Moi with fighter jets". Archived from the original on 20 September 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  10. ^ The Nation, [1] Archived 16 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "The Standard | Online Edition ::". Archived from the original on 31 March 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "World Air Forces 2024". Flight Global. 2023. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  13. ^ "KDF dumps Chinese for American war plane". Daily Nation. 21 April 2021. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  14. ^ "Kenya Air Force Receives Its First C-145A Skytruck". 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  15. ^ "7 facts you didn't know about Kenya's Presidential jet that cost an estimated Sh2 billion". 16 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Kenyan AH-1 Cobras coming from Jordan". 5 July 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  17. ^ "Kenya Air Force Assist in West Pokot Rescue Operations – Ministry of Defence – Kenya". 8 July 2020. Retrieved 22 November 2021.