When he officially accepted command of the SA Air Force (SAAF) earlier this month (June), Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo identified combat readiness as a priority and this will happen without screaming jets, throbbing helicopter rotors and roaring turboprop engines come October.
That’s when Exercise Winter Solstice, the lone SAAF combat readiness exercise, takes place.
The austerity measures put in place by Carlo Gagiano during his 2005 to 2012 term as CAF and retained by his successor Zakes Msimang appear to still be in force, as indicated by Winter Solstice 2021, scheduled from 25 October to 5 November.
Another change for Winter Solstice is venue, with previous ones (where aircraft were active) in the Northern Cape. This year’s exercise will, according to the Directorate Corporate Communications (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), be in Limpopo. With no participation by SAAF aircraft it could be staged at one of the two SAAF bases in the northernmost province.
Air Force Base Makhado is traditionally the SAAF’s fighter town and is currently home to the force’s only Gripen squadron and 85 Combat Flying School operating Hawk Mk 120 jets. The other Limpopo base is Air Force Base Hoedspruit currently home to one squadron – 19 – flying Oryx and A109 rotorcraft.
The official word on Winter Solstice 2021 is it “will be in the form of a Command Post Exercise (CPX) driven by different scenario simulations in Limpopo province. The CPX is planned to train headquarters and staff in command and control techniques and is best conducted in realistic settings, without bases, units and squadrons physically deploying”.
“The aim is to exercise operational command and control over the SAAF. The SAAF is organised to operate through a system of an Air Force Command Post (AFCP), Tactical Air Force Command Post (TAFCP) and Command Posts at base and squadron level.
“The CPX will evaluate SAAF personnel, systems and procedures in operational command and control of air operations. This is necessary to exercise, evaluate and maintain SAAF command and control competence,” the SANDF said.