The South African deployment to Exercise Blue Kunene, currently underway in Namibia, is made up of elements from the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), SA Air Force (SAAF) and Defence Intelligence (DI).
The two-week long exercise is the fifth of its type to be staged under the auspices of the Southern African Development community (SADC). It aims to prepare airborne elements of embers states’ air forces/air arms/air wings for rapid deployment in disaster situations and subsequent humanitarian relief operations, including medical and other aid.
Ahead of the departure of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) contingent to Ondangwa in Namibia, SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang earlier this year encouraged the South Africans to learn as much as possible and be good ambassadors for their country.
“Travel well and fly the national flag proudly,” he said ahead of the departure.
“In our engagements with regional air chiefs, we spoke extensively on how these exercises should evolve in the future. Hopefully the new format would include South Africa as hosts,” he said.
South Africa hosted the first SADC humanitarian air relief exercise in 2001 as Exercise Blue Cluster. It was followed by Blue Zambesi in Angola in 2013 and Blue Okavango in Botswana in 2015.
Msimang said it was an unavoidable fact that the SADC military would react to natural disasters and that it was a regional responsibility of all member states to “lend a hand”.
He also said the inter-connectivity of the air component exercises have contributed to military education and better SADC doctrine as well as boosting economic growth.
As with previous similar exercises, reaching out to the local population is important and Msimang said “citizen participation” gave the opportunity to better understand what the military does and well as strengthen ties.
Six SAAF platforms – a pair of C-212s, a King Air and three Oryx medium transport helicopters – are in South Africa’s western neighbour for Exercise Blue Kunene which will also be home to about 100 SANDF personnel from various musterings until September 7. A 28 Squadron C-130BZ was used for airlift to the northern Namibian airport at Ondangwa.
Other participating aircraft that have been spotted in Namibia include several Namibia Y-12 transports and Chetak helicopters, a Botswana Defence Force CN235, and a Zimbabwe Air Force C212.
Participating countries include Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and host Namibia.
Exercise Blue Kunene was officially launched on 24 August at Oshakati Independence Stadium. Namibia’s Minister of Defence Penda Ya Ndakolo said the exercise is aimed at building regional airlift capability that will eventually strengthen the African Standby Force.
The Ministry of Defence of Namibia said that over the next ten days, Exercise Blue Kunene is expected to distribute over 400 tons of food aid in the constituencies of Opuwo rural, Epupa and Sesfontein in the Kunene Region. This will be done in conjunction with the Office of the Prime Minister’s Disaster Risk Management Unit and Namibia Red Cross Society.
Medical outreach programmes will form part of the Exercise Blue Kunene, where civilians in the Kunene region will be screened and treated for various ailments.
Exercise Blue Kunene will be conducted in Kunene Region in the general area of Opuwo Rural, Epupa and Sesfontein Constituencies with flights launched from Hosea Kutako International Airport, which is the Strategic Operating Base. Ondangwa is the main operating base and Ruacana, Opuwo and Okangwati airfields are forward operating bases.