The South African Army says the Air Force is supporting its annual Exercise Young Eagle at the De Brug training area in Bloemfontein with SAAB Gripen and BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk jet fighters as well as 18 helicopters. The annual exercise aims at training the SA Army’s parachute and air assault forces to enhance airborne capability and combat readiness.
The exercise, under the aegis of 43 South African Brigade, has been underway since the beginning of the month and wraps up on the 24th.
Young Eagle has previously taken place in October of every year. The 2009 edition was postponed to February last year, for, among other reasons, a longer period of basic military training (BMT) for recruits. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2008 announced all Services had been instructed to extend BMT to a uniform 26 weeks.
Chief of Army Force Preparation Major General Vuzi Masondo in November 2008 said this would allow more time to be spent mastering drills and skills. “What is now a week will become two or three weeks,” he said. “It is important that our troops master their skills now that we deploy much more on the continent.” Asked at Young Eagle last February whether this had been achieved, Masondo said “last year was a pilot. We have seen a lot of improvement in terms of the end product, the quality of the MSDS that is produced. Learning from the lesson of that pilot project we are now refining certain aspects … such as map reading and things like that and allocating more time to that”.
The scale of this year’s exercise is still unclear. Last year’s endeavour, under the auspices of 46 SA Brigade, saw participating units and elements concentrating in Bloemfontein from February 1 with integration training taking place February 8 to February 13. This saw artillery, engineers and air defence artillery “integrate with other corps to support and complement each other in order to function as an integrated combat ready user system.”
Units participating in last year’s event included 44 Parachute Regiment (regimental headquarters, 1 Parachute Battalion, 44 Pathfinder Platoon and the regimental staging unit), 6 SA Infantry Battalion (Air Assault), 1 Special Service Battalion (armoured cars), 1 SA Tactical Intelligence Regiment (battlefield surveillance), 4 Artillery Regiment, 10 Air Defence Artillery Regiment (104 Battery with Starstreak missiles), 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 1 Signals Regiment, 17 Maintenance Unit, 102 Field Workshop, military police and elements of the SA Air Force and SA Military Health Service.
This amount to a force of 2065 men and women (92.2% male, 7.79% female), of whom 89% were regular, 7% were from the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) and 4% were Reserve Force. 46 Brigade commander, Brigadier General Sithabiso Mahlobo said the exercise cost about R17.5 million. This included personnel costs of R9 101 755.82, operating costs of R2 420 504, rations worth R5 245 800, petrol costing R86 496 and diesel of R696 650.
The scenario for the main exercise saw SA forces intervene in a make-belief conflict, inter alia over access to water. The initial phase saw the deployment of “RISTA” (reconnaissance intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition) assets, followed by the establishment of a helicopter administration area, the seizure and expansion of an airhead and the shaping of the battlefield through air and artillery strikes. Air assault and parachute forces then deployed to launch simultaneous assaults on enemy positions. After this, the scenario contemplated the setting up of a surgical post,the replenishment of deployed forces and a hand-over to a follow-on force, after which the force would withdraw “back” to SA.
“As we train and fight here at De Brug we have sustained no injury or loss or damage to our equipment and we strive to keep being a model of a better disciplined professional force. Our morale has never been so high and our commitment to serve is undoubted. Our people can look upon us,” Mahlobo added.