A single sentence in a defenceWeb report yesterday shed yet more light on the sad state of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and at the same time is a further indicator of just how badly the cancellation of its maintenance contract with the Aero Manpower Group (AMG) of Denel Aviation has hit the second oldest air force in the world.
Reporting on the departure of SAS Spioenkop for Senegal and Exercise Interop West, defenceWeb correspondent Dean Wingrin noted: “The SAAF contingent with a Super Lynx maritime helicopter had to pull out at the last minute due to serviceability issues with the helicopter”.
While the SAAF is not blessed with an abundance of maritime helicopters – it only has four – the exercise in which Spioenkop will be participating and the needs of the SA Navy to make sure it shows the flag proudly must have been on the planning register of both the air force and the navy for months.
Being unable to meet a request of this nature casts doubt over the SAAF’s ability to keep its other platforms operational. Against a background of dwindling finances which has effectively seen the majority of the Agusta A109 light utility helicopter fleet grounded and some of the Gripens either mothballed or rotated (depending on whether one listens to the Defence and Military Veterans Minister or the SAAF) it is a far from rosy picture.
The airborne arm of service garnered the appellation “Pride of the Nation” for its contribution to nation building in 1994, but now, without wanting to be too defeatist, the words of one of the trade unions involved in the AMG issue have to be quoted.
The Union UASA, in its Labour Dynamix publication, said: “Denel/AMG’s retrenchment of qualified and skilled technical employees at the SAAF continues to spell disaster for the future of the country’s military aircraft capabilities”.
It is also not overly optimistic about any solution.
“With the limited timeframe and the red tape, the transfer of skills of this kind and scale by the end of March 2014 does not seem feasible. This would be a final blow for the future of the (once proud) SAAF,” it added.
defenceWeb sincerely hopes this will not come to pass but it’s going to take a massive turnaround in thinking, planning and execution by the Air Force Command Council for the situation to improve.