A rain-soaked Chief of the SA Air Force (CAF) says the service may have to wait another four years before receiving its Airbus A400M Loadmaster transports.
Government in 2004 contracted with the European planemaker to receive eight of the medium transports from next year. But programme delays and trouble with the prescribed powerplant has left the A400M programme seriously overtime and likely over budget.
Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano Friday told a wet Air Force Day Parade the “delay may oblige the SAAF to reconsider its perceptions about the future of the C-130 aircraft. The prognosis with regard to the future of their airframes and wings is favourable.”
Reuters, meanwhile, reports that British Defence Equipment and Support Minister Quentin Davies has criticised Airbus parent EADS over the programme delays and has refused to rule out cutting back Britain’s order.
“I am shocked and disappointing at news that EADS and Airbus Military are not going to be able to provide these aircraft on time and in the conditions provided for … and we are thinking very carefully what do about it,” he said aboard HMS Daring, the Royal Navy`s newest destroyer.
Asked whether Britain could cancel any of its 25 orders for A400M aircraft in response to the delays, he said, “It is a very unfortunate situation and we can’t exclude any possibility; we need the strategic capability.”
Positive news is that the A400M`s much-maligned Europrop International TP400-D6 powerplant was run at “maximum power” for “a couple of minutes” during its second flight test aboard a C130K testbed aircraft last week.
Strategic Defence Package
Turning to the service`s newly-delivered fleet of BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers the CAF said “full system ownership of our 24 Hawk aircraft will be achieved in June 2009. At present there are 30 pilots and navigators crewing Hawks at 85 CFS, one of whom is a RAF exchange instructor”.
He also noted that the SAAF Gripen fleet has expanded to five dual seat trainers and said “four more are to be delivered by August 2009. Therafter deliveries of the 17 single-seat aircraft will commence.”
On the status of the Super Lynx, Gagiano said: “Our four Super Lynx helicopters have been successfully integrated into the SAAF and flight trials in conjunction with the SA Navy are at quite an advanced stage.”
Gagiano further averred work on upgrading the runway and other facilities at AFB Waterkloof was on schedule, but cautioned that it may take another two to three years to complete the entire project.
Activities to be undertaken by the SAAF during 2009 include next month`s Exercise Shield to practice command and control in the Gauteng and North West region for the Soccer World Cup, the parliamentary elections, the inauguration of the upcoming President and the FIFA Confederations Cup.
In addition, Exercise Golfinho will be held in September, in order to prepare the SADC Brigade for multidimensional peace support operations.
Gagiano once again stated that the Air force would not participate in air shows this year. “The Air force will rather make a concerted effort to support its main clients such as the President and other VIPs, as well as other Services and Divisions, in their force preparation efforts and exercises”.
Gagiano says a major disappointment over the last year was the departure of 280 technical personnel. He expected this trend to continue, “but the SAAF is collaborating with the aviation industry to ensure that aviation in South Africa is vibrant and growing.”
Air Force Day marks the founding of the airport on 1 February 1920, making the SAAF the second oldest Commonwealth air force, just behind that of the Royal Air Force and ahead of the Royal Australian Air Force.
The day is usually marked by a parade, a fly-past and the presentation of awards.
Gagiano was welcomed on parade with a flypast by the Silver Falcons aerobatics team followed by three Denel M1 Oryx each bearing the Air Force flag. Next came an impressive helicopter formation, consisting of four Oryx and three Eurocopter BK-117s, flanked by two Denel AH2A Rooivalk and led by an AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300. This was the first time the SuperLynx, based at AFB Ysterplaat, has been seen in Gauteng. They were closely followed by eight Agusta A-109s.
The final mass flypast consisted of five Cessna C-208 Caravans and the SAAF`s sole Pilatus PC-12 light transport.
After his address Gagiano awarded 2 Air Servicing Unit, headquartered at AFB Langebaanweg, the Air Force Prestige Unit of the year for 2008.
15 Squadron of AFB Durban was awarded the coveted Air Force Sword of Peace, while the Silver went to 22 Squadron (AFB Ysterplaat) and Bronze to 17 Squadron (AFB Waterkloof). The Sword of Peace rewards service to the nation, often in the form of risky search-and-rescue missions in adverse weather conditions.
Other awards were:
· The South African Air Force Aviation Safety Award: Gold went to 35 Squadron (AFB Ysterplaat), Silver went to 22 Squadron (AFB Ysterplaat) and Bronze went to 80 Air Navigation School (AFB Ysterplaat).
· The Royal Air Force Training Award: Gold went to 6 Air Servicing Unit (AFB Bloemspruit), Silver went to 87 Helicopter Flying School (AFB Bloemspruit), and Bronze went to Central Flying School (AFB Langebaanweg).
· Fire & Rescue Services of the Year: Gold went to AFB Langebaanweg, Silver to AFB Ysterplaat and Bronze to AFB Overberg.
· Air Force Protection Squadron of the Year: Gold went to 525 Squadron (AFB Overberg) and Silver to 502 Squadron (68 Air School) and Bronze to 505 Squadron (AFB Ysterplaat).
· Air Force Reserve Squadron of the Year: Gold went to 107 Squadron (AFB Bloemspruit), Silver to 102 Squadron (AFB Bloemspruit) and Bronze to 111 Squadron (AFB Waterkloof).
· Air Force Support Unit of the Year: Gold went to Air Force Headquarters Unit and Silver to Air Publication Service Centre (AFB Waterkloof).
· Air Force Air Servicing Unit of the Year: Gold went to 2 ASU (AFB Langebaanweg), Silver to 6 ASU (AFB Bloemspruit) and Bronze to 2 ASU (Detached AFB Ysterplaat).
· Air Command Directorate of the Year: Gold went to Directorate Combat Systems, Silver to Directorate Helicopter Systems and Bronze to Directorate Technical Support Services.
· Air Force Operational Support Unit of the Year: Gold went to the Lowveld Airspace Control Sector (AFB Hoedspruit) and Silver to Bushveld Airspace Control Sector (Air Command).
· Air Force Training Unit of the Year: Gold went to 80 Air Navigation School (AFB Ysterplaat), Silver to SAAF College and Bronze to Air Force Command and Control School (AFB Hoedspruit).
· Air Force Permanent Flying Unit of the Year: Gold went to 15 Squadron (AFB Durban), Silver to 28 Squadron (AFB Waterkloof) and Bronze to 87 Helicopter Flying School (AFB Bloemspruit).
· Air Force Base of the Year: Gold went to AFB Durban, Silver to AFB Ysterplaat and Bronze to AFB Langebaanweg.
· Safety, Health, Environment, Risk & Quality Award: Gold went to AFB Makhado, Silver to AFB Overberg and Bronze to 41 Squadron (AFB Waterkloof).
Additional reporting by Leon Engelbrecht