The South African National Defence Force’s Joint Operations Division says it is concerned about the country’s strategic airlift capability and anxious regarding reported delays with the Airbus A400M Loadmaster, on order for the SA Air Force under Project Continent.
Air Force Major General Jerry Malinga, the Division`s chief director (CD) Operational Development, says the country`s capability in that field has a number of gaps.
“In terms of strategic airlift, and I use the term deliberately, we know there are a few gaps. If you follow what is happening internationally, you find many operations elsewhere conducted by other people are facing the same problem,” Malinga said.
Rear Admiral Phillip Schoultz, the CD Operations, noted “air transport is an international crisis. All operations are battling with this, United Nations operations, NATO operations; so much so that Europe is creating a centralised agency through which it can channel air requests… …there is just not enough transport aircraft in the world to get around anymore and the world`s fleets are aging.”
Malinga adds part of the gap was the result of planning done in 1996-7, “when we transformed to the joint concept. The planning was that we would only start peace support operations from 2007. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending at how you look at it, events overtook us.”
Another transport aircraft project?
The air force general added that separate from the A400M, there was “also an effort within the Air Force to get large to medium transport aeroplanes.
“The SAAF is engaged in an exercise at filling the gap just below the A400M, meaning a replacement for the C130s and maybe the CASAs, the current CASAs we have. You will recall the C130s are well over 45 years old, probably the oldest C130s flying in the world today. It is an expensive exercise to keep them flying.” He would not say whether this included a look at the Brazilian Embraer C390, currently on the drawing board.
“There is an exercise going on… What will be decided on we cannot say. No-one can. The choice will depend on the utility of the type, affordability and where it falls in the scamp [Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan] prioritisation.
Regarding the A400M, Malinga said the situation is “largely it is beyond our [control].” Recent announcements suggest the programme is delayed by at least three years. The SAAF was meant to receive the first of eight aircraft purchased at a price of R7.4 billion next year. SA has so far paid R2.889 billion towards the purchase.
“All the countries that have ordered the A400M are sitting with the same problem. So are many customers of the super-large A380 airliner. They are experiencing similar problems. We are [conducting] planning exercises … we [are looking] at how to overcome these gaps in the meantime,” Malinga said.
Malinga also agreed with the contention that the area SA had to cover with sustainment flights to deployed forces was growing every year. “The area we have to cover is vast and getting bigger.”
He said flights to Sudan – where over-flight rights had been an issue – was no longer a “major problem as we are using Al Fasher as a staging area. Then we normally rely on UN flights and convoys to ferry what we have to ferry [to troops deployed at Kutum, Mellit and Malha, to the north of the Darfur town].
“Burundi is no challenge. Central African Republic is no challenge. Congo is our biggest problem. We use Burundi… If we have a large aircraft, we fly into Bujumbura and then use a SAAF C130 to fly the cargo forward into Congo. We also use Kampala, Uganda, as a staging area. Beni, in the north is closer to Uganda.
The challenge remains ferrying equipment forward. We are using civilian companies in the area. They are not 100% effective, equipment sometimes arrives with some damage but… we have an obligation to ensure our troops are well supplied.”