South African Air Force Chief highlights challenges of underfunding


Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), recently spoke to defenceWeb about the challenges faced by the Air Force due to underfunding and the need for increased financial support.

In a candid interview after officiating at a Medal Parade held at Air Force Base Ysterplaat on Friday 27 October, Mbambo emphasized the far-reaching consequences and risks of insufficient financial support for the Air Force and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as a whole.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise recently revealed in an answer to a Parliamentary question that approximately 85% of the SAAF’s aircraft fleet is currently out of action, with most airframes awaiting servicing, spare parts and/or repairs.

“The challenge,” she explained, “is the severe unavailability of funds to place contracts.”

For the Chief of the Air Force, the primary concern revolves around the mandate of the SAAF and its ability to fulfil its obligations effectively. These obligations include participating in peacekeeping operations, safeguarding national borders and combating illegal activities.

Mbambo stressed that the significant responsibilities of the SANDF extended beyond traditional military roles. He highlighted their involvement in societal duties like responding to natural disasters and fires.

“All of this requires soldiers, it requires equipment and those equipment and soldiers need money for them to be maintained and sustained. So this is a big national question which our Minister of Defence and our top leadership is attending to,” he said.

The SANDF, Mbambo said, plays a pivotal role in maintaining the nation’s security and assisting in various domestic and international situations and a lack of adequate funding poses significant challenges.

Drawing a parallel between a household budget and the Defence Force’s financial situation, Mbambo pointed out that when funds are scarce, difficult decisions must be made to manage within those constraints and unpopular choices become a necessity.

Both he and the Chief of the National Defence Force find themselves in a challenging position due to the current budget constraints. Mbambo expressed the hope that ongoing discussions and appeals to government bodies, led by the Minister of Defence, will prompt a positive response in terms of increased funding for the defence sector.

While awaiting responses to their funding requests, the military is adopting innovative approaches to address the financial limitations. Just as a household must cut back on expenses during tough times, the SAAF is implementing cost-saving measures and striving to stay within its budget. Aviation safety must be maintained during this process, Mbambo affirmed.

He emphasized the importance of investing in in-house capabilities, investing in personnel training and fostering a culture of innovation and seeking efficiencies to ensure essential tasks are managed effectively within constrained budgets. This approach allows the SAAF to make the most of limited resources and maintain its readiness.

Mbambo acknowledged the difficulties and complexities of the current situation but emphasized the commitment to maintaining the readiness and serviceability of the SAAF for the country. He also highlighted the need for other relevant departments, like Armscor, to fulfil their mandates, particularly in successfully placing essential contracts for the benefit of the Defence Force.

At the medal parade, the South African Air Force honoured 41 airmen and women with various medals, recognizing their dedication and years of service.

“A medal parade,” Mbambo told invited guests, “is a reflection of our diligent and professional behaviour This parade is in line with the military culture to recognize all those who have provided extraordinary and professional service to the South African National Defence Force.”

The recipients include those receiving the South African Medal (Azanian People’s Liberation Army or Umkhonto We Sizwe), Tshumelo Ikatelaho (General Service) Medal and Bar to the Good Service Medal (20 years).

SAAF Chief, Lt Gen Wiseman Mbambo, at the 27 October medal parade at Ysterplaat.