The SA Air Force’s (SAAF) 10% budget cut for the 2016/17 financial year coupled with the Rand’s decreasing value could mean the closure of either 2 Squadron or 35 Combat Flying School, according to a weekend report.
“If it comes down to choosing between taking the Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainer or the Gripen fighter out of service the Hawk will be scrapped,” military analyst Helmoed Heitman is reported as saying by Netwerk24.
The 10% decrease in the budget of the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is actually double that because replacement parts for the military jets have to be paid for in dollars, or pounds in the case of the British built Hawks. The news service said the value of the Rand had dropped by 30% against major international currencies, including the dollar and Euro over the past year.
If the Hawk is withdrawn from service it will mean the SAAF has had only 10 years of service from the 24 Lead-In Fighter Trainers acquired as part of the multi-billion Rand Arms Deal.
When the aircraft were acquired, spare and replacement parts were kept to an absolute minimum to keep the purchase price as low as possible.
“Now the money has dried up and along with it, the minimum available replacement and spare parts,” the news service reported.
As an example it quoted the replacement price of an ejection seat for the Hawk as costing in the region of R14 million.
Efforts to save money have already seen four Hawks cannibalised for parts. Three of these aircraft have, according to the news service, been written off after various accidents.
Indications at the time of acquisition were that the 24 Hawks would fly in the region of 4 000 hours a year in total. In terms of the current budget and with only seven Hawk qualified pilots, the aircraft are carded to fly 560 hours in the 2016/17 year.
When it comes to the sharp end of the country’s airborne defence, the situation is even worse, Netwerk24 reported.
There are only five pilots who can fly the 26 Gripens, half of which are already in storage. The pilot shortage comes as a result of the resignation of three senior pilots late last year with a further currently in the process of leaving the air force.