SAAF at 95 falls short of 1998 Defence Review’s equipment recommendations


Last Friday the SA Air Force (SAAF) officially marked its 95th anniversary as part of the annual Air Force Day parade with a flypast of mostly Air Force Museum aircraft taking centre stage due to limited funding and aircraft availability.

Brigadier General Marthie Visser, Director: Corporate Staff Services, said the use almost exclusively of SAAF Museum aircraft was also a great way to showcase the air force’s history.

The issue of funding is a long-running one not only with the air force but also the other arms of service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Taking specifically the airborne arm into account it is pertinent to look at what was recommended by the 1998 Defence Review as far as force design options for the SAAF are concerned.

This was part of a presentation made to the Seriti Commission of Inquiry by SAAF Deputy Chief, Major General Gerald Malinga, during the public hearings into allegations of corruption during the 1998 Arms Deal.

That Review, not to be confused with the current one on which Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence and Military Veterans is seeking public input, recommended 32 medium jet fighters and 16 light fighters for the SAAF.

Instead the SAAF, as part of the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP), acquired 26 Gripen jet fighters and 24 Hawk Mk 120 Lead-In Fighter Trainers.

The proposed figure for reconnaissance aircraft in the 1998 Review was 32 made up of 16 light reconnaissance aircraft, six long range maritime patrol aircraft and 10 short range maritime patrol aircraft. Another proposed addition was for a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

At present the only true reconnaissance aircraft available to the SAAF are the handful of ageing C-47TPs operated by 35 Squadron. 41 Squadron’s 208 Caravans, King Airs and PC-12s can also be used for this tasking but are utilised more in the transport role for both cargo and people.

The 1998 Review said a total of 44 transport aircraft would meet SAAF needs. This presumably included the medium airlift capacity of 28 Squadron’s more than 50 year-old C-130BZs as well as 41 Squadron and 44 Squadron (C-212 Aviocar). At the moment the SAAF has nine C-130BZs, three C212s, 7 C-47TPs, four King Airs, ten Caravans and one PC-12 in its inventory for a total of 34 transport aircraft.

The 1998 Review recommendation of 12 combat support helicopters is currently in service minus one Rooivalk, written off following an accident.

As far as maritime helicopters are concerned, according to the Review Malinga quoted in his presentation to the Seriti Commission called for five aircraft. Currently the SAAF operates four Super Lynx maritime helicopters from AFB Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron.

The 1998 Review wanted the air force to have 96 transport helicopters. Exact figures are not available but 15, 17, 19 and 22 Squadrons as well as 87 Helicopter Flying School at AFB Bloemspruit operate either Oryx, Agusta A109 and BK-177 or a combination of these types. Approximately 39 Oryx, 29 A109 and six BK-117s are in the inventory for a total of 74 helicopters.

In-flight refuelling and electronic warfare would have seen the SAAF operate five specialist aircraft in these roles if the Review was fully accepted. Today it has zero in-flight refuelling capability, with the electronic warfare and refuelling Boeing 707s retired.

VIP and VVIP transport should by now, in the 1998 Review, have been the responsibility of nine aircraft. 21 Squadron today operates the Boeing BBJ, a pair of ageing Falcons and a Cessna Citation.

Addressing the Air Force Day parade, SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, did not specifically mention acquisitions except when he referred to “capacity building and the enhancement of the air force’s capabilities”.