SAAF just beats austerity adjusted flying hour target

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Implementation of austerity measures at the SA Air Force (SAAF) saw it pass – even if only slightly – a reduced flying hour target for the 2022/23 financial year.

The airborne service budgeted to fly 12 000 hours in the reporting period – down by a substantial 5 100 on 2021/22 – and logged 12 059.2 hours, according to the Department of Defence (DoD) 2022/23 annual report.

By far the majority – 8 900.5 – were logged in force preparation flying with force employment hours a distant second at 2 483.6. SAAF management budgeted for a thousand hours of moving VVIPs (Very, Very Important Persons) to and from local, regional, continental and international destinations and, logged 675.1 hours.

Hours flown in force preparation were close to two thousand more than planned (7 000 force preparation hours budgeted and 8 900 flown) with force employment hours 1 517 less than the 4 000 budgeted.

The annual report – again – provides no breakdown of aircraft types utilised for the three taskings.

In its introduction to the air defence section, the annual report notes the SAAF “continued to provide support to the joint force employment requirements, despite air defence capabilities remaining under pressure due to budget constraints”. This is further explained by “inadequate force levels of all aircraft systems within the SAAF continued to hamper the ability to fulfil required operational and training requirements”. The reduced budget “led to a decrease in force preparation hours and resulted in maintenance and servicing backlogs with fewer serviceable aircraft available”.

Another observation on the funding shortfall has it “flying system groups could not ensure that all aircraft kept to planned force preparation hours; resulting in a lack of adequate force preparation hours to ensure aircrew competencies and maintain training standards”.

A total of 609 learners were trained during the year under review. Annual training targets have not been met because of courses being rescheduled and still ongoing as at the end of the reporting period, the annual report noted.

A case in point on maintenance and servicing backlogs are the Cessna 208 Caravans operated by 41 Squadron out of Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof in Centurion. The single-engined, high wing aircraft have been in service since 1988 and are grounded with some reports having it for over two years.

That the grounding was not unexpected cane from Armscor, which noted the end of a maintenance contract in December 2021 brought the eight-strong Caravan fleet’s age to 40 years, requiring “a midlife upgrade to cater for obsolete avionics”. A new maintenance contract was to be adjudicated in April 2022 with no bidder meeting the requirements.

In response to a defenceWeb inquiry, Armscor Senior Manager: Corporate Communication Liziwe Nkonyana said: “The client (the SAAF) has since requested to review the scope of work to include both support and upgrades”.

Once a SAAF tasking letter is received Armscor’s supply chain management process will start “immediately”.