Mbambo window shops simulation and training solutions

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Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, acknowledges the SAAF has little funding but that doesn’t stop it from keeping a close eye on the latest technologies and engaging with industry.

Mbambo gave one of the opening addresses at this week’s Aerospace Simulation and Training Symposium in Pretoria. Held at the Innovation Hub on 10 and 11 July, the symposium was driven largely by the SAAF and TMI Simulation Solutions. Mbambo said it is good to expose members of the Air Force to such symposiums and exhibitions, even if the SAAF does not have money to spend on the solutions offered. However, some products will be able to solve the current problems the organisation is facing, and the SAAF therefore needs to be “an educated customer.”

Simulation training is one way of reducing SAAF expenses as it is often cheaper than live training. The SAAF does have simulators in its inventory, but not all of these are working, and it sends C-130 Hercules pilots, for example, overseas to train on simulators, which can be costly.

Mbambo told symposium attendees that technology and the advance of the fourth industrial revolution are tools for the strong and the weak alike, but “the weaker species, with greater insight and initiative to exploit the system, can emerge victorious against the giants.”

The Chief of the SAAF remarked that the world we live in is volatile and highly unpredictable, with the Covid-19 pandemic just a taste of what is still to come. “Anyone who failed to take any lessons from it will never learn and the chances of surviving similar or worse situations in the future are bleak for that individual or entity,” he said.

“The demise of the Cold War somehow put most people in a temporary and dangerous lull thinking the time has come for the lion to graze with the lamb. Governments steamed ahead to cut defence budgets and embarked on defence policy reviews that saw the shrinking of defence forces…Those who understand the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the world we live in never went to slumber like others or like the rest but continued to plan and prepare for the unforeseen and the unknown. Today they have competitive advantages in all sections including defence and security. The Russia/Ukraine conflict, the continued tensions in the South China Seas and the thirty other countries around the world involved in various conflicts is a living testament that peace remains an elusive commodity.”

Mbambo said this is particularly true of Africa, where 35 armed conflicts are raging. “The conflicts are now closer to home in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique and South Africa is intimately involved in these areas with a mandate to restore peace and stability. The South African National Defence Force, and South African Air Force in particular, have taken some casualties in the process and we cannot afford to ignore these realities.”

According to Mbambo, we are living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world “and we must constantly stay awake, focus on what we have, find ways to close the gap and plan for the future. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand…and forget the world around us.” He urged innovation, long term vision and the stretching of one’s thinking faculties, something the Symposium will help to achieve.

“We need to be ready for unforeseen eventualities as seen with covid. The SAAF is embarking on ventures to seek alternative sources of energy in the future such as synthetic fuels. The same approach is being adopted to feed and clothe our members. We are pondering new ways to tackle unknown problems of the future. Alternative sources of funding such as sweating assets demonstrates a mindset shift,” he said.