Making sure the South African Air Force (SAAF) is combat ready is the main priority for new Chief, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo.
He made comments to this effect during a parade at Air Force Base Swartkop on Friday, which saw Mbambo accept command from retired Chief, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang. Mbambo commenced his duties on 1 May, taking over from Major General Mzayifani Innocent Buthelezi, who was Acting Chief from 1 October 2020 following Msimang’s retirement.
Mbambo said one of his main priorities is improving the SAAF’s combat readiness, which is the “core business” that defines the Air Force. “Government wants us to be where we need to be and we need to ensure we are combat ready, for all emergencies such as Mozambique or in this country.” He added, “no doubt there are many storms around us but as eagles we cannot afford to cow down to them.”
“I can confess that there is a sea of challenges confronting the Air Force. However, I can equally attest that there is an abundance of opportunities awaiting us to fully exploit to our advantage. To every SAAF member I challenge you to approach me with two things: a challenge and a proposed solution,” Mbambo said.
The shrinking defence budget is a very difficult situation, and “my concern is we need to look at how we are managing scarce resources.” It is important to relook at how the SAAF manages the little it has and focus on enhancing the capacity of its own people. “Unless we grow our own timber – we have a little chance of survival in the highly competitive environment of scarce resources.”
When asked about the situation at Denel, Mbambo said the SAAF needs to build up its internal capacity so it is not dependent on others. “As the Air Force we shall enhance and deepen our members’ skills and knowledge in order to save costs and narrow our footprint to external dependency.”
The new Chief told guests that he wants the SAAF to be a technology smart air force, and embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. “We shall continue to enhance our combat hardware because we know that the enemy can be taken out of the game much simpler and faster through innovative employment of military technology.”
During his speech, Mbambo called for the adoption of new technologies and forging partnerships with other air forces, industry partners and institutions to grow and overcome obstacles. “To the air force leadership and all air force members: let’s get down to business. We have no time to waste!”
In his address, Msimang told Mbambo to face challenges and controversy head on as it is the ultimate measure of success. “My brother, my CAF, I implore you to uphold the virtues and values that were inculcated in us as soldiers in the battlefield of Angola, in the aviation academy in Russia, in the camps in Tanzania and back home.”
Command is a privilege and an honour, Msimang said. “Part of that honour for me today is knowing I am handing this command over to another leader, comrade and a brother. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working very closely with General Mbambo in the past in Angola, Russia, Tanzania and in the RSA during integration and in the SANDF. He is a visionary leader, with foresight and integrity and a God fearing man, and I believe that he is the perfect fit here.”
Msimang thanked Commander-In-Chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa, for having entrusted him with the South African Air Force to the end of his career. “I leave behind an agile enough SAAF that physically and intellectually moved seamlessly between its traditional mandated tasks and functions and the demanding new environments of climate change, firefighting, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as peace support operations to mention but a few.”
Regarding transformation, Msimang said it was unfortunate that “most of our planning regarding the movement of personnel into strategic posts at a crucial time of transformation were undermined and in turn, undermined maximum organizational performance.”
Another negative for the former Chief is the situation at Denel. He said it “it pained me tremendously when I received the Denel letter in the social media regarding an 80% salary cut for the month of May. Such never occurred on my watch, as I had become an expert in keeping financially bereft institutions afloat and let them succeed and grow, ourselves included. My team and I had laid out a plan year-in-year-out to ensure that Denel aviation stands. It is evident that the Defence industry is slowly incapacitated to the point of complete dismantlement. This cannot be. The revival of the defence industry will contribute to the prosperity of the country. If we continue to fail to revive the defence industry, we shall soon be rendered defenceless.”
Since leaving office, Msimang said he has spent the past few months looking at ways to support the South African defence industry. “The existence of the SAAF is inextricably linked to a strong and vibrant defence and aviation industry… It is clear that innovative approaches have to be exercised to ensure the survival and integrity of our defence industry. It is common knowledge that the revival of the defence industry will contribute to the prosperity of our economy.”
In concluding, Msimang told paradegoers that, “I would like to assure you, compatriots, of the readiness and commitment of the South African Air Force in national security, defence of the country, supporting our own security forces or undertaking operations in support of our people. The SAAF continues to focus on its force preparation and capacity building endeavours. We have done well despite the unfavourable economic climate we find ourselves in.”