The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) held a spectacular live-fire capability demonstration at the Roodewal weapons range outside Polokwane on 18 February as part of this year’s Armed Forces Day celebrations, with vehicles, fast jets and helicopters peppering the landscape with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.
The demonstration was one of the highlights of Armed Forces Day celebrations, which are this year being hosted by Polokwane and culminate in the Armed Forces Day Parade through the city on 21 February, with President Cyril Ramaphosa presiding over the function. Activities kicked off on 14 February at the Polokwane Cricket Club with the SANDF opening the fan park with a mini-war demonstration.
Hundreds of invited guests descended on Roodewal on Tuesday to witness the SANDF in action. The show started with a flypast of a Cessna Caravan with a Koiler electro-optical surveillance ball mounted on the side, beaming imagery to a ground station. Pathfinders were dropped in by parachute from an Oryx transport helicopter, including a tandem jump.
After the aerial presence, the capability demonstration was dominated by ground forces, with Special Forces operators showcasing their light and agile Hornet vehicles, which were fitted with cannons and machineguns. These were backed up by 107 mm rocket launchers, mortars and other weapons. After the Hornets, some of the other primary SA Army vehicles were demonstrated for the crowd, including the Ratel, Rooikat and Olifant main battle tank – the latter effortlessly crushed a derelict car to show what the 60 ton vehicle could do. A Denel Vehicle Systems RG-31 armoured personnel carrier, meanwhile, fired its locally developed SD-ROW remotely operated machinegun turret at targets on the range.
The South African Air Force (SAAF), which saw its 100 year anniversary at the beginning of February, then took over, starting with a firefighting water drop from an Oryx carrying a Bambi bucket. Then the fast jets arrived, having flown from Air Force Base Makhado to the north of Polokwane. Two Gripens and a Hawk engaged in mock combat, with the Hawk eventually conceding defeat.
The SAAF showed its support for ground forces during the next phase of the demonstration, with a casualty evacuation and troop insertion/extraction exercise carried out with A109 and Oryx helicopters backed up by a heavily armed Rooivalk attack helicopter. Once the casualties were flown out by helicopter, a C212 dropped supplies by parachute before a simulated battle commenced. This kicked up huge clouds of dust and smoke as the Army opened up with small arms, mortars, rockets, cannons, RPGs and grenade launchers whilst the Air Force dropped bombs from its Gripens and the Hawks fired their 30 mm cannon pods. The Rooivalk got a chance to fire its 70 mm rockets and 20 mm cannon.
After a late afternoon pause, the night phase of the demonstration began as dusk fell. The semi-darkness was the perfect backdrop for guests to see anti-aircraft artillery, mortars and small arms erupting onto the range. Rooivalk, Gripen and Oryx aircraft also took part, launching dozens of flares before the demonstration ended with a giant wall of fire lighting up the night sky.
In line with Armed Forces Day, the capability demonstration showcased the SANDF’s state of combat readiness and showed that the military stands ready to defend and protect South Africa, safeguard the country and its people, contribute to regional and continental security and provide support in times of crisis and disaster.