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Exercise Young Eagle ensures SANDF is combat ready

Ratels.The South African Army has declared the nearly 5 000 military personnel who took part in this year’s Exercise Young Eagle combat ready. The exercise concluded with a firepower demonstration at the Lohatla Combat Training Centre in the Northern Cape yesterday.

Yesterday’s demonstration saw dozens of armoured vehicles, from Casspirs to Rooikats, backed by pathfinders and mortar teams, disembark infantry in a mechanised attack that was also supported by four Hawk Lead-In Fighter-Trainers in a showcase of the military skills fine-tuning that formed the backbone of the exercise.

The SA Army said the aim of Young Eagle 2015 was twofold: to prepare, assess and exercise the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) airborne capability and assess the crisis response capability of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), of which the SANDF is a key part.

Mobilisation of forces began in Bloemfontein on 15 July with the combat elements of the exercise taking place from 15 August at places such as Biesiespan, De Aar Airport (deception dummy drop), Upington Airport (airborne assault), and Dimoteng (ground attack).

The scenario for the exercise was escalating conflict between the Republic of Western Cape (RWC) and the Republic of the Northern Cape (RNC) due to support by the RWC to the local rebel Bungu tribe in the RNC. After the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) decided that the only alternative to conflict would be military intervention the UN issued a resolution authorising intervention forces in the RNC. However, as UN member states could only deploy in nine months, South African government forces were forced to deploy in support of the RNC. The exercise culminated in the handover of the theatre of operations to a UN/AU peacekeeping force and the demobilisation and return of troops to South Africa.

The SA Army said that a total of 4 926 personnel were involved in the exercise, including 1 229 troops from 9 SA Infantry Battalion, 1 465 from 1 Parachute Battalion, 545 from the South African Air Force (SAAF) and 903 from the Navy. SAAF assets used for the exercise between 10-17 August included two C-130s, four Oryx, four Hawks, four Gripens and five A109s. The Navy contributed a support ship, two frigates, one submarine and two Maritime Reaction Squadron platoons, with exercises off Durban and the Cape.

Participating units included the headquarters of 43 SA Brigade, 1 Parachute Battalion, Rapid Deployment Air Operations Team 43, 7/8 Medical Battalion, Defence Intelligence, 9 SA Infantry Battalion, 44 Parachute Regiment, 1 Special Services Battalion, 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 18 Light Artillery Regiment, 1 Tactical Intelligence Regiment, 1 Signal Regiment, 102 Field Workshop, 17 Maintenance Unit and elements from the SA Special Infantry Capability based at Potchefstroom. Now that the exercise is over, soldiers will return to units by 24 August.

The Army said that mission readiness training was conducted successfully and that the exercised forces are combat ready. South African Army chief General Vusi Masondo said that overall the exercise went well, with only two of nearly 5 000 troops involved sustaining injuries. During Thursday’s demonstration, a helicopter took off before a rope could be rolled up, with the rope subsequently hitting a pathfinder. The soldier was not seriously hurt. “One of the reasons we invest so much in training is to avoid mistakes like this,” Masondo said. The other injury occurred on 13 August when a soldier suffered a dislocated shoulder during a paratroop assault.

He added that Exercise Young Eagle was part of preparation for Exercise Amani Africa II, scheduled for October/November this year. This is an African Union preparation exercise for its African Standby Force (ASF). Indications are that all African Union members will take part, including 12 Southern African Development Community countries.

The 2014 iteration of Seboka was modelled on the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) force, an AU initiative to provide the continent with an interim rapid reaction force until such time as the ASF is fully operational. Masondo said the ASF should be established by the beginning of next year, resulting in no further need for the stopgap ACIRC.