Even if government acceded to the wishes of its Defence and Military Veterans Minister as regards acquisition of new airlift capability immediately it would take at least three years before any new aircraft arrive in South Africa.
This was made clear by a high-powered delegation from Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of the proven C-130 series of military airlifters, who are in country to mark the 50th in service anniversary of these aircraft with the SA Air Force (SAAF).
A Lockheed Martin team has been “in dialogue” with the SAAF for more than two years about replacing 28 Squadron’s venerable C-130BZs.
“We have had discussions and presented any number of analyses based on SAAF taskings because we know, just as the air force does, that the BZs cannot carry on forever. While the aircraft have provided exceptional service to South Africa along with those responsible for flying and maintaining them no aircraft can carry on indefinitely,” Dennys Plessas, vice president business development initiatives for the American aeronautics giant said at a briefing in Pretoria.
The briefing was held a day ahead of 28 Squadron’s 70th anniversary which will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Lockheed Martin/SAAF association.
All Lockheed’s contact with the SAAF has centred on replacing the BZ aircraft with the latest model C-130J. This is a true multi-mission aircraft which can fulfil roles from airlift through to maritime patrol, in-flight refuelling, border protection, VIP transport, medevac and others.
“In today’s world financial constraints are very much part and parcel of every business, including acquiring new military hardware,” said Steve Pigott, director business development for Lockheed’s international air mobility programmes.
“This is why we see the C-130J as being the aircraft to operate rather than acquiring an air force,” he said.
Lockheed is recommending the SAAF acquire a minimum of six and a maximum of eight C130Js to enable it to properly fulfil the multiple tasks demanded of airlifters.
Taking into account the long lead times before delivery once actual acquisition agreements have been signed and financing approved “the time is now” for South Africa to start moving on replacing the C-130BZs it currently operates.
Former SAAF Chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano two years ago indicated the BZs could stay in service until 2020.
“It’s already 2013 and adding the three years before delivery means one is looking at 2016 so there’s not that much time left,” George Schultz, Lockheed vice president and general manager of C-130 programmes said.
Along with the American company’s longstanding relationship with the SAAF Plessas also offered another reason why the local air force should look to Lockheed to supply its continuing airlift needs.
“Acquisition programmes in South Africa include offsets and Lockheed has never defaulted on any offsets as part of acquisitions internationally,” he said in a veiled reference to the 1998 arms deal. That was the first military acquisition in the democratic era and saw the SA National Defence Force acquire fighter jets, fighter jet trainers, light utility helicopters, frigates, submarines and at a later stage maritime helicopters.
All were subject to offsets, linked to either the defence or general industrial sectors. Many of these offsets were apparently not met and are expected to be raised when Judge Willie Seriti’s Arms Procurement Commission begins its public hearings in August.