The South African Air Force has a requirement for five specialised Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and eight cheaper general-purpose Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA).
Brigadier General Tsoku Khumalo told defenceWeb maritime security conference in Cape Town yesterday that the Douglas C47TP Dakota currently in use by 35 Squadron in a limited MSA role can only serve until 2015 and is in dire need of replacement. A replacement is required from 2016.
The C47 has been in SAAF service since 1943. It replaced the Avro Shackleton MR3, the last purpose-designed MPA, in SAAF inventory in November 1984.
Several C47s were modernised in the early 1990s and fitted with turboprop engines in the place of the radial engines than carried. About 11 of these aircraft remain in service.
The new aircraft will have to be cost effective, sustainable, appropriate and offer a growth path. It will need to be capable of inshore, coastal and deep-sea exclusive economic zone patrol as well as search-and-rescue (SAR) work.
To support naval operations they will also require an ability to engage in antisubmarine and surface warfare.
The new aircraft will require the ability detect, track, classify and identify surface targets and in wartime to engage the same with onboard weapons.
Khumalo added that the SAAF realistically required 12 to 14 MPAs but these were very costly and the budget needed likely prohibitive.
The air force transport and maritime chief added that while MSA cannot carry ordnance because they have no hardpoints, they can be successfully employed and deployed on non-military and most military missions.
For this reason, he was proposing a mix of MPA and MSA, the latter to act as a cheaper substitute for the former; especially in patrolling the country’s exclusive economic zone that stretches to 200 nautical miles from the coast on behalf of state entities such as the departments of the Environment and Transport, the SA Maritime Safety Authority, the Maritime and Coastal Management authority and the police.
MSA can also be purchased as commercial-off-the-shelf platforms.
The MPAs will conduct defensive surface warfare and antisubmarine operations in collaboration with the SA Navy and will have the ability to carry weapons if needed.
Khumalo says since MPA are expensive to acquire and operate, it is “therefore feasible to consider MSA with much of the same mission equipment and more compact and delivering the same outcomes but at lesser cost.”
He added that neighbouring states have already requested these aircraft to help secure their seas, an activity that would also assist SA by extending its maritime security horison.
The SAAF has a funded programme on the defence department’s Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan, Project Saucepan, to acquire the aircraft. The budget, however, is not known.
Khumalo, who did not refer to Saucepan, added that the choice and mix of platforms were still under discussion. Other having a maritime role the aircraft also needed to have a transport function and would also replace the C47 and Casa aircraft; Khumalo being keen to reduce the number of platform types in use in the SAAF transport environment.
While at pains to avoid mentioning manufacturers or aircraft models for fear of creating perceptions, Khumalo did acknowledge that to have the range for maritime operations – the SA SAR region is some 17.2 square kilometres in size – and to have a useful cargo capacity the aircraft would have to be of the size and capability of the Casa 295.
However, extreme long range SAR operations over the sea would remain the task of the Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules or, once in service, the Airbus A400M Loadmaster.