Officers on this year’s Security and Defence Studies Programme (SDSP) will not see the SA Air Force (SAAF) in action at what has been an annual showcase of its abilities.
The 2019 iteration of the air capability demonstration (ACD) at the Roodewal bombing range in Limpopo is “cancelled”, an officer on SDSP course 05/19 told defenceWeb. It was tentatively scheduled for the beginning of October.
Official requests to both SAAF Corporate Services and the Corporate Communications Directorate of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) were unanswered at the time of publication, notwithstanding a number of follow-up enquiries.
In addition to senior officers and other top government officials on the country’s top security course, the SAAF invites the military attaché corps, flag and staff officers from other services as well as captains of industry and selected media to attend the ACD. The Roodewal bombing range is south of AFB Makhado, home to the sharp end of the air force in the form of its Gripen and Hawk fighter component, with both aircraft part of the live weapons exercise.
The ACD has always been a training event for the airborne service and came into being following requests from the SA National Defence College, at that time presenting the senior staff course, for students to see the SAAF at work. As far as can be ascertained the first time students had the opportunity to visit Roodewal was in the late nineties. At that time the Defence College was presenting two courses a year with two ACDs staged. Changes saw not only the course name changed, firstly to ENSP (Executive National Security Programme) and then to SDSP, but also to a single programme presented each year.
Retired senior SAAF officers told defenceWeb the cancellation of ACD was “in all likelihood due a lack of funds”. The former officers, one a brigadier general and the other a colonel, saw the cancellation as “a further dent in training” of SAAF pilots.
Earlier this month SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, told Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence, his service had less than 49% of its required budget funded. He told parliamentarians the air defence portion of the SAAF budget was just on 60% shy of what was needed. The SAAF needs R13 billion a year to operate. It has been allocated R7.358 billion in the current financial year. Half goes to human resources, 35% to operating costs and the remaining 15% is earmarked for maintenance and acquisitions.
Last year’s ACD was marred when an Oryx medium transport helicopter executed an emergency landing, damaging its tail boom and undercarriage, with no injuries.