The South African Air Force has no plans to close any of its nine bases, although AFB Durban is due to move, probably to King Shaka International Airport, at “some stage”.
The KwaZulu-Natal base is still operating from what was Durban International Airport and with work set to start on at least earthworks for the new dig-out port on the site in the not too distant future, the base will have to relocate.
AFB Durban is home to 15 Squadron and its mixed fleet of A109 and Oryx helicopters and has been at the airport, south of the Durban CBD, since 1981.
Major General Cedric Masters, Director: Policy and Planning, said there were “issues, including strategic considerations, to be resolved” around the relocation of AFB Durban.
This was being addressed by a steering committee with SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Navy and Department of Public Works representation.
The Navy plans to turn Naval Station Durban into a fully-fledged naval base and be home to its flotilla of offshore patrol vessels (OPVs). Earlier this year Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, told defenceWeb one of the problems with the upgrade was finding suitable accommodation for OPV crews as well as maintenance personnel and their families. “We are speaking to Public Works about this and other issues around Naval Station Durban,” he said.
Addressing his first media briefing, at AFB Waterkloof yesterday, since becoming SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, said the plan was for the air force to grow its footprint.
“There will be no base closures, we will retain and build,” he said.
One place where rebuilding, particularly of vital infrastructure, is currently the order of the day is AFB Makhado. The Limpopo base is the SAAF’s fighter town and is home to 2 Squadron (Gripen) and 85 Combat Flying School (Hawk Mk 120). It has had major power supply problems for the past 12 months, with funds having to be diverted from the operations budget to keep generators going.
Msimang said base commander, Brigadier General Schalk van Heerden, and all base personnel had “done magnificently” to ensure the base remained operational during this time.
Indications are, in collaboration with Minister Thulas Nxesi’s Public Works Department, that work on the replacement of electrical supply equipment, including sub-stations, could start in “about six months,” Masters said.
As far as another important SAAF resource – its maintenance ability – is concerned, Msimang said the cancellation of the AMG (Aero Manpower Group) contract earlier year had led to a skilled services agreement (SSA) being entered into with Denel Aviation.
“This will provide critical and scarce skills for an interim period.”
To avert a recurrence to the situation, which arose when AMG could no longer maintain and service SAAF aircraft, a capability plan has been put in place. It includes skills transfer from former AMG (now SSA – Skills, Service and Training) employees to SAAF personnel; ongoing and targeted recruitment; optimisation of logistics systems and structures and improved technical personnel development, motivation and utilisation.
“The SAAF,” Msimang said, “has enough aviation artisans and technical officers to fill up to 90% of positions. The retention of experienced artisans and technical officers is stable and the SAAF will continue to ensure the highest standards of flight safety and efficiency”.