Underfunding eroding SA Air Force

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Severe underfunding has led to the erosion of the South African Air Force (SAAF) and its equipment, according to the Department of Defence’s Annual Report.

The SAAF experienced a critical mismatch in its financial resources and delegated tasks, the DoD annual report for 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 read, something which the DoD foresaw continuing in the medium term. “Taking the current funding levels into the future MTEF [Medium Term Expenditure Framework] 2013/14 and beyond, it is not possible to envisage any intact air capabilities operating in the SAAF.”
“Only the minimum force preparation hours could be afforded whilst C J Ops mostly covered the cost of force employment hours. However, the slow processing of these payments had a further negative impact on the optimal management of the SAAF’s budget.”

The annual report noted that the critical challenges for the SAAF in the short and medium-term include affordability, operational readiness and support. “Cutting through all these strategic issues is the challenge of under-funding.”
“The severe underfunding has led to the erosion of aircraft systems integrity as no capacity could be built to maintain the systems. No steady state support contracts could be negotiated for Gripen, resulting in 12 aircraft being placed in long-term storage.”

Underfunding hit the helicopter side of the air force hard, especially due to its “substantial operational commitment levels” during the last financial year and long lead times on maintenance components, “which resulted in the inability to address many essential elements of support. This led to the erosion of helicopter systems’ integrity as no capacity could be built to maintain the systems.”

However, it was noted that despite these challenges, the ordered commitments, humanitarian support and Search and Rescue Operations were honoured during the year.

Another impact on the budget came from the termination of the side-by-side trainer contract (using Cessna light aircraft), as this was cheaper than training pilots on the turboprop PC-7 Mk II. A total of 16 pilots qualified in FY2012/13.

However, the report stated that the SAAF “once again demonstrated its dependability in delivering on its mandate despite the challenges encountered during FY2012/13. The SAAF managed to keep combat readiness at the required levels and flew 94.8% of the planned flying hours. A total of 23 636 hours were generated.”

In fact, the SAAF exceeded the targeted 10 500 force employment hours flown for the previous financial year, flying 11 696.71 hours. This increase was due to disaster aid and relief operational hours flown during the Mozambique floods.
“The success of the SAAF can be attributed to the dedication and commitment of its personnel under challenging circumstances,” the report noted. “The achievements however came at a cost in that the future integrity and sustainability cannot be guaranteed and training is behind schedule.”

The DoD’s annual report was not all doom and gloom, with some of the highlights mentioned in the report including the delivery of the final four of 26 Gripens in September 2012 and the redelivery of the 11th and final upgraded Rooivalk combat helicopter, which took place on December 12, 2012, at 16 Squadron in Bloemfontein.

In spite of funding challenges, the SAAF took part in numerous exercises and operations, such as the multinational Exercise Lion Effort in Sweden over the period 27 March to 4 April 2012. “The exercise was extremely successful and valuable experience was gained in the process,” the DoD said.

The SAAF was very active in Mozambique, providing search and rescue, disaster aid and relief operations during the flooding there and assisted the Mozambican Defence Force with counter piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel. Externally, the SAAF supported peacekeeping operations with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At home, the SAAF supported border safeguarding operations, VVIP flights, anti-rhino poaching operations in the Kruger National Park and provided support for Exercise Atlasur, Exercise Ibsamar and Exercise Seboka. A total of 207.9 hours were flown in support of providing air defence during the African Cup of Nations during January and February 2013. The SAAF also put on a good show at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition 2012 at AFB Waterkloof.

The SAAF received some relief in the mid-term budget announced this month, which saw an additional R400 million being allocated to the South African National Defence Force, mostly going toward force employment (R271 million). This should help the Air Force carry out operations, in spite of the fact that R535 million was removed from the air defence budget.