Being less dependent on National Treasury for funding and becoming more independent and innovative are key elements of the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) new vision that it announced during Prestige Week.
Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, unveiled the new vision at Thursday’s Prestige Evening at Air Force Base Waterkloof as part of SAAF birthday celebrations, and expanded further on it during a parade at Air Force Base Swartkop on Friday morning. The parade and review also saw Hawk and Rooivalk combat aircraft take part, along with transport and utility helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Mbambo told assembled guests at Swartkop that the SAAF’s new vision is to project effective air and space power through innovation in the theatre of operations. This, he said, requires a total mind shift and the growth of capabilities through innovation.
“Clearly the SAAF of the future needs a different template of thinking in terms of training and preparing our force for the future. We cannot hope to win here unless we discard the old template of thinking and adopt a new one,” he said.
“We have been in the air power business for some time and the rationale still remains valid. However, the air space domain has been ignored for too long to the detriment of our national security, the country, region and the continent. Diverse opportunities shave been missed and our voice has been silent on air space matters that have a direct bearing on our key economic and security interests. Our vision seeks to change this status quo going forward.”
The SAAF sees opportunities in the air space arena and there are many partners it can join up with in this regard.
Touching on the topic of challenges and opportunities since its founding on 1 February 1920, Mbambo said SAAF history carries many valuable lessons. “Right from its conception it was greeted with adversity, and navigating storms has been its norm. In our journey of 102 years, we have seen and experienced the best and also the worst, where we have to operate under severe constraints of politics, resources, capabilities etc.”
“The various leaders of the Air Force, together with the members of the Air Force, have never failed to navigate through these storms. We are standing here today confronted by an avalanche of challenges but we are not blinded not to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of all this. The daring spirit of the Air Force cadre, the intrinsic character of agility, has not disappeared in our fibre. However, we must have key stakeholders and partners in the next phase of our journey.”
Mbambo told the parade that, “The time for being comfortable with the consumer mentality in the SAAF is over. We must forge ahead to introspect ourselves in terms of what we can do ourselves and what we can outsource. We must get involved with partners and government departments that will enable us to express our innovation and help relieve too much dependency on the coffers of National Treasury. This requires a different thinking not only within the SAAF and the Department of Defence but beyond so that the constrains in policies must be removed.”
When asked about becoming more independent, Mbambo said there are things that can be turned into businesses to generate income for the SAAF, such as the Test Flight and Development Centre at Air Force Base Overberg and the associate Overberg Test Range.
“There are a wide range of opportunities,” he said. “We can turn the situation around as opposed to going cap in hand…We must resist the temptation of limiting thinking into what we see. We must elevate the thinking horizon despite the challenges we have.”
During his Prestige Day address, held on the closest Friday to the SAAF’s founding on 1 February, Mbambo highlighted some of the SAAF’s achievements. He said the SAAF has flown 13 726.4 flying hours in the past year, including 102 hours dedicated towards Operation Chariot for humanitarian assistance. Although Operation Chariot has mostly seen disaster relief activity such as firefighting, it is helping distribute COVID-19 vaccines across South Africa.
“The Republic of South Africa is very clear in terms of the importance of peace and stability in our region, without which there can be no economic development,” Mbambo said. “The South African Air Force is part of Monusco within the Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now in Mozambique as part of SAMIM [SADC Mission in Mozambique]. The Air Force men and women have delivered beyond expectations and so much praise have been received in terms of our military expertise.
“Closer to home and in our own bases, SAAF personnel continue to excel and to demonstrate their dependable skill. Recently during the fire outbreak at Air Force Base Waterkloof, our skilful firefighters from Air Force Base Waterkloof and Air Force Base Swartkop managed to extinguish the raging fire from our fuel pumps under on hour, thus preventing potential massive damage to base infrastructure and loss of lives. It is such people of the Air Force that gives us assurance that the Air Force has a secured future. The Air Force Board has decided that these members will be awarded with an appropriate medal for the demonstration of skill and bravery in preventing a potential catastrophe.”
Prestige awards are usually given to deserving units and bases around the country during Prestige Week, but Mbambo said not all of them were able to perform well during the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so commendations will instead be issued to bases and units that managed to carry on successfully during the pandemic. Mbambo said that hopefully next year the awards will resume.
The SAAF hosted an impressive air display at the Prestige Parade, with a mass helicopter formation comprising A109, Rooivalk, BK 117, and Alouette rotorcraft. This was followed by three Hawks as well as SAAF Museum aircraft, Caravans and C212 transports. Conspicuously absent were any Gripens, as these remain grounded pending the signing of a new support contract. Mbambo said Armscor and Saab are currently in discussions regarding this and believes the matter will be resolved soon. “It will happen, but it’s just a matter of time,” Mbambo said.
In concluding his address, Mbambo said, “if this giant bird of the sky called the South African Air Force remains chained by limited thinking and constrained by various policies it will not succeed. Therefore, I am standing here and making the clarion call: free the eagle! Free the eagle!”