No SAAF Ex Winter Solstice this year

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The airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will not stage its annual force preparation exercise – Winter Solstice – this year with the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2024 exhibition taking preference.

Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo’s SA Air Force (SAAF), along with the remaining three services – SA Army, SA Military Health and the SA Navy (SAN) – as well as divisions such as finance, human resources and joint operations, have to live with continually decreasing National Treasury (NT) budget allocations.

The financial belt tightening goes back to 2013 when then SAAF Chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano used the annual February Air Force Day parade to announce implementation of austerity measures. Since his departure the SAAF has had now retired three-star general Fabian “Zakes” Msimang in charge, followed by another three-star Mzayifani Buthelezi as acting chief before Mbambo moved into the hot seat in June three years ago.

That funds are not readily available is illustrated by there being no Winter Solstice last year, and the previous year it was largely a command post exercise (CPX) based at the SAAF Ditholo training area north of Pretoria. The 2022 exercise had preparation for external deployments as its main thrust. Prior to that Winter Solstice exercises centred largely around the Northern Cape with sorties flown by fixed and rotary winged aircraft to support peacekeeping deployments.

The official response from the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) on Winter Solstice 2024 is it will not be conducted due to AAD scheduled for September at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof in Centurion.

DCC, responding to a defenceWeb inquiry, said the SAAF Museum Air Show at the Air Force Mobile Deployment Wing (AF MDW), formerly AFB Swartkop, on 4 May attracted 20 273 people. “Despite the absence of the much-anticipated fighter presence, the show was a great success, with no incidents flying-related or otherwise,” the response reads.