VIP aircraft acquisition issue again highlights defence budget shortcomings


Twenty years ago the SA National Defence Force was a new entity where optimism was high with ambitious plans and projects on the table to make South Africa’s military a force to be proud of and one which would make a difference – locally, continentally and even internationally.

Just how much things have changed was forcibly brought home at this week’s briefing on the acquisition of a new VIP jet aircraft. SA Air Force Deputy Chief, Major General Jerry Malinga, pointed out that had Project Jarmen gone ahead as planned there would not have been the need to now look at acquiring another VIP aircraft.

Project Jarmen was supposed to have capacitated, to use the popular government word, the SAAF to properly fulfil its mandate of supplying VIP transport for senior government functionaries, including the President. Malinga said “budgetary constraints” led to Jarmen never being completed.

Those two words sum up what has been happening to the SANDF since virtually day one of a democratic South Africa. Funding allocated to the military shrinks every financial cycle in real terms while Government spend on social services rises.

The SANDF is year on year expected to do more with less as Government puts more tasks its way.

Old and in some cases, outdated, equipment is still in service. The SAAF’s major airlift platform the C-130BZ has marked its 50th anniversary in service and another aircraft, the venerable C-47TP, is even older and still flying in the maritime domain as well as performing other tasks. And that’s just as far as the airborne arm of service is concerned. The Army has its own set of equipment problems, with some relief on the distant horizon.

Surely it has become time for the military to make its collective voice heard in the corridors of power. Lobbying of MPs should be a high priority as the Department of Defence starts to implement actions to reach milestone one of the Defence Review.

The bottom line is, if public representatives are generally not aware of what is happening in the SANDF they cannot really be expected to vote in favour of more funding for the military.

A concerted lobbying and information effort is required from the DoD/SANDF communications corps. There are sufficient of them, in numerical terms, to do the job. The big questions are: can and will they, at the risk of upsetting their superiors?