SAAF aircraft unavailability to be questioned in Parliament

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Armscor’s seeming inability to “conclude” maintenance contracts for equipment in SA National Defence Force (SANDF) service, especially aircraft, has reached an untenable point, with questions coming for Defence and Military Veterans Minster Thandi Modise.

She, as government’s shareholder representative for the State-owned defence and security acquisition and project management company, will be called to account for Armscor failings by way of Parliamentary questions from Kobus Marais. The Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for Modise’s portfolio sees weekend revelations of another SA Air Force (SAAF) type grounding as the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.

The grounding of 41 Squadron’s eight Cessna 208 Caravan light transport aircraft because there is currently no maintenance contract in place follows a similar state of affairs with 2 Squadron’s Gripens not allowed to fly for the same reason. This was remedied, after a year on the ground, ahead of last year’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition when OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Saab was awarded a maintenance and service contract for the 26-strong frontline fighter fleet. The three-year contract runs until 2025. It appears the engine support contract for Gripen has not yet been awarded.

Marais noted Armscor is responsible for maintenance contracts across the national defence force adding it is “embroiled in controversies”. This, he says, has seen a decline in South Africa’s defence capabilities.

“Among others, Armscor is tasked to ensure maintenance contracts are renewed timeously so situations such as that with the Gripens and Caravans do not arise.” On this, he will ask Modise, as minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet responsible for the national defence force and Armscor, among others, to “act urgently and decisively to ensure maintenance contracts are renewed and to bring to book the culprits who undermine South Africa’s defence capabilities”.

As background to the questions to be asked of Modise, Marais points out he was earlier this year made aware “contrary to what was reported to the parliamentary defence oversight committees, maintenance contracts for the SAAF primary fixed-wing fleet have not been concluded”. This, according to him, is still the case.

Marais points to 41 and 21, tasked with VIP transport, squadrons as being affected by the absence of maintenance.

He wants Modise and Armscor management to focus on making the SANDF workable, ensuring prime mission equipment (PME) is operational and serviceable to provide proper defence readiness.

“It is unacceptable that the Minister, her senior officials, Armscor top management and support staff spend too much money travelling locally and abroad, a cost National Treasury is of the opinion can, must and should be reduced significantly.

“It seems the political and management will is lacking to make important decisions to address real challenges and deficiencies to improve our dire defence capabilities and readiness urgently.

“The Minister, the Department of Defence (DoD) and Armscor should forget about government’s failed policies and priorities and focus on doing what is necessary to improve Armscor operations and the capabilities of the national defence force. If not, they are accomplices to letting down defence capabilities, South Africa’s safety and security and the Constitution,” Marais maintains.