A US delegation has visited South Africa to discuss the latter country’s future military fixed-wing airlift requirement. The visit reportedly took place earlier this month and follows a Cabinet decision to can the acquisition of eight Airbus Military A400M strategic transports and a subsequent instruction to revisit their future requirements in the face of an aging fleet.
The SAAF currently operates a mix of medium and light transports, including Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules aircraft acquired in 1963 and Douglas C47 transports delivered in 1943. These are due for replacement and defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu has repeatedly said the strategic transport requirement remains. There is, in addition, an urgent need for a maritime patrol/security aircraft MP/SA to support the border patrol role allocated to the South African National Defence Force last October.
The Afrikaans daily Beeld this month reported the US was keen to engage SA and other countries to take up surplus orders in the face of American military budget cuts. Beeld reports SA is interested in the Alenia C27J Spartan as well as new C130J. A Lockheed Martin team visited last year and were overheard to say there was a SAAF requirement for five C130J. The C27J, which has a cockpit very similar to the C130J as well as the same engines, could fulfil the MP/SA role. Up to 13 are required as part of Project Saucepan. SAAF was apparently also interested in the Boeing C17 Globemaster III.
The paper added the US Air Force had ordered some 130 C27J three years ago but now only need 60. The US is keen to transfer the remainder to allies. US Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Bruce Lemkin in July 2008 told the Aviation Week journal that airlift was a linchpin for US cooperation strategy with African nations.
“Helping these nations to develop an intercontinental air transport infrastructure and internal security is a key piece of the USAF’s initiative there…,” the journal said. At the time some six African countries had shown interest in the C27J. Morocco has ordered four. “This small airlifter is ideal for outreach to Africa, as many nations there cannot afford larger aircraft. Airlift resources are in need in Africa, which lacks robust overland routes; most transport there relies heavily on aviation”, Lemkin noted.
The defence departments has meanwhile confirmed that the re-assessment of the SAAF’s future fixed-wing transport aircraft requirement is complete. Sisulu earlier this month said the defence department was “ready to put before Cabinet the necessary document that will assure that we can get this capacity and proceed with the necessary procurement processes,” a reference to the strategic airlift requirement.
“We are not sure yet what we are going to get in the market so it would be very difficult to say whether we are going back to the A400. We are keeping our options open and we will follow the due processes of tender and come up with the best option in line with our budget and in line with our needs,” she said.