Air Force air capability demo impresses


The South African Air force (SAAF) impressed foreign military dignitaries at Tuesday’s Air Capability Demonstration (ACD) with an impressive display of firepower and synchronised manoeuvring.

The air power display is held twice a year at the Roodewal weapons range outside Polokwane in Limpopo. The event provides the SAAF with an opportunity to demonstrate its operational capabilities, including co-operation with the others arms of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Ancillary to the ACD was the requirement to set up a temporary airbase at the weapons range.

It is also the only time invited dignitaries and guests are able to witness aircraft firing live weapons at close range.

The Air Force timed the event to take place on the day prior to the official opening of the eighth biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition taking place at AFB Waterkloof from 17 to 20 September. According to Chief of the Air Force, Lt. Gen. Fabian Msimang, the ACD provided the various international air force chiefs visiting AAD with an “intimate gathering” at which to showcase the flexible military capabilities of the SAAF. Senior SANDF members of the National Security Program were also in attendance.

What made this ACD event particularly interesting was that it was timed to coincide with dusk, demonstrating the Air Force’s ability to operate at any time of the day or night.

Proceedings commenced with introductory speeches and background information, followed by 80 minutes of incredible noise caused by the live firing of rockets, mortars, cannon, machine guns and the dropping of bombs, all with the continuous clatter of rotor blades overhead.

Following the insertion of Pathfinders dropped from a C208 Caravan at 6,000ft in order to collect intelligence and mark targets, a Hawk fitted with a Vinten reconnaissance pod, escorted by a Gripen, obtained tactical information over the battlefield. The Gripen, having been targeted by a SAM, released flares.

Various simulated exercises, including a South African Army element, comprised scenarios ranging from mortar attacks, air supply drops and troop insertions. A low-level supply drop by a C-130 Hercules was followed by two Gripens and a Hawk performed a 2v1 dogfight.

Oryx medium-transport helicopters demonstrated water bombing with Bambi buckets and continuously dropped off and picked up troops while an Agusta A109 Light Utility Helicopter performed observation and co-ordination of ground force duties.

With a BK-117 performing an ‘emergency landing’ after the pilot was hit by ground fire, a combat Search & Rescue scenario was enacted. The ensuing mock battle included the firing of 81mm motors, with Oryx helicopters inserting and extracting troops whilst two Rooivalk attack helicopters provided covering fire with 20mm cannon and 70mm FFAR rockets.

Close air support was proved by a Hawk firing its 30mm Aden cannon and dropping 120kg bombs, whilst three Gripens dropped 250kg bombs on targets on the range, creating some impressively huge explosions and accompanying vibrations.

The demonstration concluded with a flypast by all the participants, with flares being fired from the Hercules, Gripen and Oryx.

The ACD clearly achieved its aim. Many of the senior foreign military dignitaries interviewed by defenceWeb afterwards commented on how impressed they were with the coordination, command & control and professionalism of the SAAF.

In the words of Deputy Chief of the South African Air Force, Maj. Gen. Gerald Malinga, “there is no task the SAAF cannot carry out successfully.”