Yet another underwhelming reply to a Parliamentary question raises further doubt about the ability of the SA Air Force (SAAF) to remain a force, with concern that it may become “a dismal air wing”.
The concern comes from Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais. He wanted Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to provide at least some detail as regards problems facing the SAAF in keeping its fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft airworthy.
Bearing in mind the fleet includes C-47TPs which are more than 70 years old and C-130BZs, operated by 28 Squadron for over 50 years, it would seem a valid and deserving question. Marais also alluded to the troubled State-owned defence and technology conglomerate Denel asking if its problems could impact on serviceability of at least some SAAF airframes. In this regard, Denel is an authorised MRO (maintenance and repair organisation) for Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of the C-130 range of military medium-lift aircraft, and is the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for the Oryx medium transport helicopter. It is also OEM for South Africa’s home-grown Rooivalk combat support helicopter.
In her reply the Minister did not go into specifics saying, among others, engagements were taking place between the Department of Defence (DoD) and National Treasury to “address funding challenges of the SANDF in general”. Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) was last month informed Parliament was “still awaiting the National Treasury response” to the portfolio committee’s budgetary review and recommendations report. Once received, it will be forwarded to the committee but no receipt date is given.
Worryingly, Mapisa-Nqakula indicated in her response “(SAAF) capabilities will gradually come to a grinding stop if State Owned Entities like Denel and the DOD are not adequately resourced to fulfil on their various mandates”.
As far as flying airworthy aircraft are concerned she said “the decision to stop flying will be determined by airworthiness and aviation safety considerations”.
Marais’ comment on receipt of the Ministerial response was “what a sorry organisation the SAAF has been degraded to”.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s response comes ahead of the air force’s centenary celebration which will officially be marked on 1 February next year and commemorated with a series of events culminating at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof in September.