The South African Air Force (SAAF) today celebrated Air Force Prestige Day, marking the 99th year of the establishment of the Air Force and a quarter century of a democratic air force.
Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, presided over the ceremony at Air Force Base Swartkop, which included a parade and mass flypasts by SAAF Museum and active duty aircraft. The helicopter formation comprised four Oryx, two Alouette IIIs, three A109s and a single Rooivalk. Next up were two King Airs, a Bosbok a Cessna 185, three Harvards, a five-ship Silver Falcons formation, and two Hawks and four Gripens.
Air Force Base Ysterplaat was named as the prestige unit of 2018 while at the Prestige Awards function on Thursday night, two additional awards were introduced, namely Chief of the Air Force Award to the member or unit that rendered most notable support to the SAAF or the Chief; and the Fledgling Award for the most improved crèche of the year.
“We are duty bound to pay tribute to all our brave men and women in uniform who are in the deployed areas and on the home front, serving our people and safeguarding our national interests…This is also the time for us to remember our fallen heroes,” Msimang told the parade.
“The level of defence ambition requires our Defence Force to be appropriately equipped, resourced and trained in support of South Africa’s national security, national interest and foreign policy. The National Defence Force is the nation’s insurance policy – and we all have to take collective responsibility of not allowing this policy to lapse.
“What price are we all willing to pay to protect this freedom that some seem to take for granted? Those who believe that we do not need a potent National Defence Force, will one fine day learn afresh that indeed freedom is not free. It is unethical to expect commanders who are under-resourced to train and prepare troops for battle and humanitarian missions.”
Regarding the role of the defence industry, Msimang said he was satisfied the industry has heeded the call to prioritise the SAAF’s requests and ensure it is mission ready to execute its mandate. Engagements continue to reduce costs and turnaround times.
“As a result of some of our engagements with local industries, we continue to explore the possibility of establishing war rooms to monitor stock and track movement of components; work to establish warehouses to reduce delivery turnaround times and address warrantee issues; and train and certify our engineers and technicians with the aim of establishing in-house capability.”
However, Msimang expressed concern over Denel, which “remains a key player within the South African aerospace and defence value chain and a strategic partner to the SAAF. The continued operation and future sustainability of the hardest working air assets of the SAAF being the Oryx, Rooivalk and C-130, rely on an efficient and effective Denel as the original equipment manufacturer and technical design authority. The challenges that Denel is faced with, have posed a threat to the sustainability of these assets. Nevertheless, I do appreciate Denel’s improved level of commitment to harness its technical and other skills to work together with the SAAF.
“We remain committed to the full integration and deployment of the A-Darter missile whilst the future of the Rooivalk remains positive with possible upgrade continuing to be addressed and drawing interest from various partners…Through the National Defence Industry Council, plans are afoot to implement significant interventions that will ensure the continued sustainability and survivability of our defence industry.”
Msimang said focus areas for 2019 include the Collective Heritage Programme, which will see museums, units and bases capture and display an all-inclusive history of the SAAF; a focus on recruitment; caring for members and families through the Spouses Forum and early childhood development centres and embracing fourth industrial revolution technologies. Outreach programmes like Siyandiza, Young Falcon and winter and summer camps, will continue to attract future SAAF members.