At least 40 military aircraft from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are at Maun Airport in Botswana along with 800 troops for the regional air exercise Blue Okavango.
Exercise Blue Okavango is seeing SADC member countries participating in what the regional body’s aviation committee said will see doctrine, equipment, inter-operability and operational deployment concepts exercised at a regional level. The main aim of the exercise is to ensure the region’s air forces will be able to react positively, providing humanitarian assistance when disaster strikes.
The SA Air Force has, according to Gauteng Afrikaans daily Beeld, sent a pair each of Gripen and Hawk jets to Botswana for the exercise along with two Agusta A-109 light utility helicopters, an Oryx medium transport helicopter and a C-130BZ transport aircraft.
It appears South Africa’s Gripen jets will be reconnaissance platforms providing information on scenarios developed specifically for Blue Okavango.
Blue Okavango is scheduled to take place between 11 and 31 July with the main portions between 20 and 25 July. Some 887 personnel are expected to be involved in the exercise.
Blue Okavango is a sequel to Exercise Blue Cluster, which was held in South Africa in 2011, and Blue Zambezi, which was held at Angola in 2013. Botswana Defence Force Deputy Air Arm Commander Brigadier Seleka Phatshwane, said Blue Okavango will enhance the SADC air forces’ capacity to plan and conduct combined joint operations, humanitarian support and disaster relief initiatives.
The exercise will take place in the Okavango wetlands, which experience flooding at this time of year.
Military personnel from the SADC member states last week met in Maun to discuss final planning for the exercise. Planning conferences were also held in March and June. Although there are 15 SADC members, only Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are taking part.
Namibia has contributed a single transport aircraft and a utility helicopter as well as 43 air force personnel, while Angola has contributed around 70 personnel.
Blue Okavango is the latest in a string of joint and multinational SADC compatibility, interoperability and capability-building exercises held since 1997, when the inaugural undertaking, Blue Hungwe, was held in eastern Zimbabwe.