60 Squadron still active as VVIP transport unit


Fourteen years after its last sortie – delivery of a Boeing 707 to the SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum at Air Force Base (AFB) Swartkop – 60 Squadron is still listed as an active unit.

The AFB Waterkloof-based squadron was unofficially listed and known as the SAAF’s sole heavy transport unit, a title it unofficially still holds.

SAAF management planning in the early 2000s was for the squadron to operate Airbus A400M transports, eight of which were ordered by three government departments – Defence, Public Enterprises, and Trade and Industry (Now Trade, Industry and Competition) in 2004. That acquisition was canned by then Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in 2009 following what was termed “challenges in delivery”. South Africa’s withdrawal from the A400M programme means the SAAF today still has as its major transport a handful of ageing C-130BZ Hercules and not the new generation Atlas airlifters using 60 Squadron hangar space on the southern side of the Centurion air force base.

While there was no official word on 60 Squadron as an active unit, military aviation enthusiast extraordinaire Dean Wingrin explained de-activation can only happen with ministerial approval (currently Thandi Modise).

“Once done it is doubtful, given current circumstances the SAAF will receive approval to stand up a new squadron, should it be required. It’s easier to keep the squadron in limbo for future requirements or acquisitions,” he told defenceWeb adding tongue in cheek “one lives in hope”.

This he sees as explaining the appointment of Colonel G Duvenage as new squadron officer commanding to replace Colonel NA Adams in July.

The Squadron’s current duty is VVIP (Very, Very Important Persons) tasking and management. This was previously an Air Force Command Post (AFCP) duty for VIP aircraft operated by 21 Squadron, also at AFB Waterkloof.

According to Darren Olivier, Director at African Defence Review, 60 Squadron is currently used to house the VVIP Unit. During the era of former President Jacob Zuma, the demands from the Presidency and other government departments for VVIP flight planning, tasking, management, and monitoring became ever more onerous and outgrew capacity at the Air Force Command Post so a mini Command Post dedicated to VVIP flights was set up with a small staff. The new entity was created out of the shell of 60 Squadron.

The Air Force Command Post is meant to handle VVIP flight planning, tasking and management for SAAF flights, but VVIP was split off. Olivier believes this was because it was spending so much time and effort managing short notice VVIP flights that it had to downscale its support for core missions like search and rescue, training etc.

“The SAAF decided to set up a VVIP command post to handle the load…The VVIP Unit should have been officially created as a new unit with defined posts in the force structure, which would have required ministerial approval. Instead it was decided to reuse some posts allocated to 60 Squadron, in limbo since the A400M cancellation.

“Whatever the reason, this unplanned, ad hoc structure that should not have existed in the first place has continued up until the present day and now has a new Officer Commanding. The root cause problems of the way we handle VVIP flying have not been resolved but carried over,” Olivier stated.

60 Squadron was based at AFB Waterkloof in July 1986 following reforming. It operated modified Boeing 707s for air-to-air refuelling, electronic (EW) and intelligence (ELINT) tasks. The aircraft were later used for passenger transport, cargo and SAR (search and rescue). The last 707 operational flight undertaken by the squadron was to Bujumbura, Kinshasa and Kindu in July 2007.