SA Air Force progresses with establishment of Space Command Section

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The establishment of a dedicated Space Command Section within the South African Air Force (SAAF) is gaining momentum.

During the Air and Space Power Symposium in September 2022, Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, announced the establishment of the South African Space Command Section (SASCS) to manage and coordinate all defence-related space activities in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and other government agencies. He noted that air and space power are relevant in the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) journey to greatness and the Fourth Industrial Revolution does not favour slow pace and lengthy procrastination.

Speaking at a Commission and Wings Insignia Parade at Air Force Base (AFB) Langebaanweg outside Cape Town on Wednesday 21 June, Mbambo noted the progress made on the establishment of the SASCS. He explained that the SAAF is known for its ability to detect, identify, and respond to airborne threats, such as aircraft, missiles and drones. Recognizing the increasing role of space in modern warfare, the SANDF has embarked on the development of a dedicated Space Command capability, he said.

The creation of the SASCS signifies a significant development for South Africa, indicating the nation’s renewed interest in space exploration and technology. Beyond defence applications, this development promises positive impacts on various sectors, including telecommunications, agriculture, and environmental monitoring.

To ensure a seamless implementation of South Africa’s National Space Strategy, the Space Command Integrated Planning Team (SCIPT) was established to spearhead the establishment of a dedicated Space Command Section within the SAAF. Comprising skilled military practitioners, Mbambo said “the SCIPT has made remarkable progress in the short period of its existence since 2022.”

The team has engaged with multiple stakeholders from public and private entities, locally and internationally, fostering a unified approach in the implementation of the national space strategy. The groundwork of the SCIPT is almost complete and the local capabilities have been mapped, which includes future planning from industry and national government.

Locally, the SCIPT has collaborated closely with industry partners such as the National Earth Observation Space Secretariat (NEOSS), SANSA, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The SCIPT has also embarked on international engagements to ensure that the SAAF aligns with global best practices. A bilateral engagement with the Italian Air Force has already taken place, with a focus on sharing insights from the implementation of the Italian Defence Force Space Operations Command. Further engagements with other allied nations are planned, solidifying South Africa’s commitment to adopting international standards and knowledge.

“By leveraging these collaborations,” Mbambo explained, “the SAAF is positioning itself at the forefront of space capabilities, actively contributing to national development.”

Mbambo expressed the SAAF’s pride in its collaborative efforts with industry partners, recognising the invaluable contributions of organizations such as NEOSS, SANSA, DSI, and CSIR in shaping the future of space exploration and defence capabilities. Moreover, Mbambo observed, the SAAF remains steadfast in its commitment to inspire and educate future generations of aviators and space explorers through its ambitious space programme.