Latest DRC troop rotation again highlights SAAF airlift problems


The lack of airlift capacity in the SA Air Force (SAAF) is widely acknowledged. What apparently is not being as widely acknowledged is the need for proper planning on charters to ensure soldiers and the logistics needed for them to properly do their jobs is in place.

The recent hiccup in arranging aircraft to move soldiers from 5 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion to the DRC to replace their 6 SAI colleagues in the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) is another example of what appears to be a lack of forward planning in this regard. Afrikaans daily Beeld reported an aircraft was chartered in a rush and without the necessary procedures being followed to get the soldiers to the DRC and bring back those who have completed their UN tour of duty.

The paper said questions were being asked about the rush charter. This because it was apparently given to the same company that could not deliver last year in the Central African Republic (CAR), where South African soldiers came under heavy fire from rebels, losing 15 men in total.
“This week’s DRC charter was arranged telephonically in contravention of standing regulations,” a source was reported by Beeld as saying.

In the aftermath of the Battle for Bangui, SANDF Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, requested an investigation into the use of privately owned charter aircraft used by the South African military. Beeld said the investigation never happened.

Military analyst Helmoed Heitman points out there is a need to “think hard” about South Africa’s role in Africa.
“If we are going to take on regional missions and particularly crisis response missions we need heavy airlift and tankers,” he said adding the immediate problem is the lack of technical staff and funding to keep the C-130BZs flying with a lack of aircrew also a contributory factor.
“The fiasco with rotating soldiers to and from the DRC now appears to be headed for court,” the paper said.

South African soldiers were left high and dry in Goma and Entebbe when no aircraft arrived to bring them home after delivering replacement troops for the FIB in the eastern DRC city at the weekend. While no official confirmation was forthcoming, reliable sources told defenceWeb the troop movement “eventually” did take place.

The 5 SAI deployment will be part of the UN FIB for the next 12 months