Most SAAF aircraft maintenance contracts only partially funded

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State defence materiel agency Armscor has maintenance contracts in place for most South African Air Force (SAAF) aircraft, but most of these are only partially funded at present.

Only the Cessna Caravan, Beechcraft King Air and C-47TP Dakota fleets are without maintenance contracts (although the King Air contract is being finalised), according to an Armscor presentation delivered to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) in September. All four King Airs, eight Caravans and eight C-47TPs are currently grounded, with the prospect of the C-47TPs never flying again due to challenges finding a maintenance provider.

On the fixed wing side, maintenance contracts are in place for the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), Falcon fleet, C212, and PC-12. Regarding the BBJ, Jet Aviation AG has a contract to support the aircraft from July 2023 to July 2026 (the contract cost is R500 million but only R64 million has been funded). Jet Aviation, based in Switzerland, has identified two local subcontractors to carry out maintenance work (Yes Aircraft Maintenance and Dentec). The BBJ is serviceable and has been used by President Cyril Ramaphosa on numerous recent international trips, most recently to France for the Rugby World Cup.

Execujet MRO Services has the Falcon fleet maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) contract, running from March 2023 to February 2026. This is costed at R252 million, of which R110 million is funded, according to Armscor. A single Falcon 900 and two Falcon 50s are in the SAAF VIP fleet. Armscor reported that a C-check on the Falcon 900 has been delayed due to corrosion found on the fuel tanks, with completion scheduled by 31 October. defenceWeb understands that the corrosion is repairable and the Falcon 900 will be airworthy soon, while one of the Falcon 50s is currently airworthy.

As for the C212, Airbus is contracted to maintain the fleet between August 2022 and August 2025, at a cost of R70 million (of which R39 million is funded). Armscor reported the order is in progress and all spares and repairs have been provided to the SAAF in order to make the aircraft serviceable. One of three C212s is believed to be currently airworthy.

The Pilatus Centre Southern Africa has a contract in place from June 2023 to August 2026 to service the SAAF’s sole PC-12, at a cost of R50 million (although R13 million of this is funded). Armscor noted the SAAF can do all basic maintenance on the aircraft, with Pilatus supplying spares and support.

The PC-12, is however, currently unserviceable as the engine is due for an overhaul. “The quote for the engine overhaul is significantly higher than budgeted for; this is the second overhaul on the engine and the initial estimate was based on the first overhaul,” Armscor stated, with the SAAF currently sourcing the additional funds for this order. The estimated lead time to bring the PC-12 back to service is March 2024.

Regarding the other fixed wing aircraft in the SAAF fleet, National Treasury allocated R1 billion in the 2023/24 financial year for rejuvenating the SAAF’s medium airlift transport capability and this is going towards upgrading and maintaining the six C-130BZ Hercules. Marshall Aerospace received a R470 million contract to install Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS B) transponders and replace the secondary flight display systems on C-130BZs 409 and 405 as well as complete major maintenance work. Marshall will work with Denel to upgrade the remaining four Hercules locally.

Armscor revealed that the balance of the additional R1 billion in airlift funding will be utilised for the servicing of at least eight engines for the C-130BZ fleet, while Armscor is also placing a contract worth R40 million for aircraft spares.

R75 million of the SAAF budget for 2023/24 is being allocated to Denel Aeronautics for C-130BZ maintenance, with the contract valid from January 2023 to end December 2025. These funds will be used for the servicing of aircraft, procurement of spares, repair of components and calibration of Ground Support & Test Equipment (GS&TE). Armscor noted that “C-130BZ product supply support (PSS) contracted to Denel from January 2023 to December 2025 is worth R500 million, but only R177 million is funded.”

The PC-7 Mk II turboprop trainer contract will end in less than a year and a replacement has yet to be placed. Armscor revealed the PC-7 contract runs from August 2023 to end March 2024 and is worth R130 million, with R118 million funded. Lead times for spares are between 8 months and 24 months. Of the 35 PC-7s in the fleet, around half a dozen are serviceable at present.

The PC-7, PC-12 and Caravan fleets use Pratt & Whitney Canada’s popular PT6 turboprop engine and to ensure these are kept running, on 1 August a contract with the company was placed for engine support across the SAAF. Although this is worth R250 million, the funded value is just R40 million.

Rotary wing fleet

As the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Denel is tasked with maintaining the Oryx and Rooivalk helicopter fleets. The company presently has a contract in place for Rooivalk maintenance, running from April 2019 to end March 2024. This on-demand contract is worth R450 million, with R186 million funded. A fixed cost contract (R500 million+) ran from April 2019 to end September 2023. Armscor was hoping to place another contract with Denel by end September. Several of the 11 Rooivalks in the fleet are currently airworthy.

Regarding the 39 Oryx, about half a dozen are flyable. Both Airbus Helicopters and Denel have support contracts in place, covering June 2021 to June 2024 and June 2019 to April 2024 respectively. These both come to R440 million, although R283 million is funded at present.

Leonardo South Africa is responsible for A109 airframe support for the 24-strong fleet, with two contracts each worth R125 million running from December 2022 to end March 2025 (R12 and R16 million of these are funded). According to Armscor, “the current budget allocation is insufficient for on demand requirements”, with efforts being made to secure additional funding. Similarly, there is insufficient funds for Arrius 2K2 engine support for the A109 fleet (R5 million funded against a R100 million requirement), with the SAAF trying to make additional funding available. Only half a dozen A109s are serviceable.

Maintenance funds for the eight BK 117s are in short supply, with the on-demand contract with Airbus Helicopters running from June 2021 to June 2024 funded to the tune of R19 million against a required R100 million. “Additional funds to be confirmed by SAAF to be added to the order to buy additional spares while waiting for the new contract to be placed,” Armscor stated. The new contract was to have been in place by end September 2023.

Armscor expected a new product support contract for the four Super Lynx 300 to be in place by 20 October 2023. Armscor said a challenge with the Lynx is the long turnaround time for spares and overhauls – one engine is at LHTEC for overhaul and the second awaiting delivery to the contractor. Half the Lynx fleet is airworthy at present.

Combat jets

Both Hawk and Gripen jets have maintenance contracts in place, but not for the entire fleets. Saab as the original equipment manufacturer of the Gripen has an airframe support contract in place from September 2022 to end August 2025, worth R650 million (of which R476 million is funded). After delays, Armscor placed a support contract with GKN Aerospace for the maintenance of the Gripen engines, running from August 2023 to end July 2026. It is worth R327 million, of which R145 million is currently funded. Armscor originally aimed to have the engine support contract in place with GKN by 1 December 2022.

Due to the SAAF’s tight budget, the support contract with Saab covers 13 Gripens over three years – the SAAF had 26 Gripen C/Ds, but one was written off following a ground incident. The remaining 12 will remain in storage.

The other jet combat aircraft in SAAF service, the Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter-trainer, also has maintenance contracts in place. OEM BAE Systems was awarded the airframe maintenance contract, valid from September 2021 to end August 2024. This is worth R250 million, of which R221 million is funded. Armscor said the order is progressing well, with 90% of the material supply already delivered. “The product support contract (PSC) strategy has proven to be effective for the Hawk maintenance and support,” Arsmcor told the PCDMV.

Rolls Royce, as the engine OEM, was contracted to provide support from June 2022 to end May 2025 for the Hawk’s Adour Mk 951 engine. This is valued at R29 million, with R19 million funded. “The order is progressing well,” Armscor reported.

Paramount Advanced Technologies is responsible for Hawk avionics maintenance from August 2023 to end July 2026. This contract is worth R9.6 million, with over half (R4.6 million) funded. Line replacement units that require repair are already at Paramount.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, replying to a recent parliamentary question about SAAF aircraft serviceability, said the unavailability of aircraft implies SAAF defence readiness is “compromised” with aircrew having to regain currency and “the lack of aircraft availability poses a challenge”.

She goes further stating: “The challenge is the severe unavailability of funds to place contracts and it’s not as a result of non-performance by Armscor or SAAF. Armscor had to engage with contractors within limited available funds and, in numerous instances, has not yielded positive results”.