Specialist crime fighting unit the Hawks has asked Parliament for an extra R100 million to buy a helicopter.
The request, made late last month by Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza while briefing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police, is “at first glance, not unreasonable” according to aviation and military analyst Darren Olivier.
He was referring to the sum of money asked for, explaining that R100 million will “get you an H145 or equivalent at best, without mods”.
The H145 is an Airbus Helicopters product previously marketed as the EC145 T2. It is a multi-mission, light, twin-engined helicopter which can carry up to nine passengers and has a cruise speed of 129 knots.
Olivier’s reasoning on why he is against the Hawks having their own helicopter reads: “Given that the SAPS Air Wing already has a substantial capability and a range of helicopters and aeroplanes available all over the country, for the Hawks to set up their own independent air wing looks more like empire building than anything else.
“For far less money, the Hawks could part-fund the SAPS Air Wing and in return get dedicated access to one of that unit’s helicopters for a certain number of hours per year. Even if the Hawks were to pay for the exclusive use of an Air Wing helicopter, there would be substantial savings by not needing to duplicate the Wing’s crewing, maintenance, dispatch and basing functions.”
In his motivation to the Parliamentary committee, Ntlemeza is reported as having said: “The FBI has a jet and helicopters and not just one helicopter, because what if one has been grounded. We’re only asking for one and even then one isn’t enough”.
He told the committee there were some operations that demanded the Hawks “come from the sky” and a rotary-winged aircraft was also necessary for cracking down on rhino poachers.
“Rhino horn policing isn’t a nice operation because of the distances and the forests and the big spaces. And if you need to make an arrest, you need to make it now, you can’t go and requisition a helicopter,” Ntlemeza said.
Olivier maintains it would be better for the Hawks to enter into some sort of agreement with SAPS rather than use SA Air Force (SAAF) helicopters.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea for the Hawks to use, for example, the SAAF A109s, except during regular periods of defence force assistance to the police.
“Firstly, the process for SAPS to request a SAAF helicopter is more convoluted, requiring co-ordination via either a provincial joint operations structure or NATJOINTS, so it’s not suitable for urgent scrambles.
“Secondly, the SAAF is already struggling with an overuse of assets compared to the funding available, which is impacting on crew numbers and training hours, and it’s unlikely that even if they agreed to pay for using the A109s the Hawks would be made to pay anything more than the direct variable operating cost of the aircraft and none of the ‘dry’ costs.”
“MPs should deny this request and instruct the Hawks to use infrastructure and assets already in place,” he said.