A fully-fledged brigade airborne exercise is currently underway at De Brug, the SA Army’s training range west of Bloemfontein, with unit conducting offensive operations “to test their capability to function as an integrated combat ready user system.”
Young Eagle is an annual SA Army event aimed at training and exercising the SA Army’s airborne and air assault forces to enhance its airborne capability and combat readiness.
The exercise commenced February 1 with participating units and elements concentrating in Bloemfontein. Integration training took place February 8 to February 13 and saw artillery,engineers and air defence artillery “to integrate with other corps to support and complement each other in order to function as an integrated combat ready user system.”
Units participating include the headquarters of 46 SA Brigade, 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 (Starstreak missile), 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 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 foe of 2065 men and women (92.2% male, 7.79% female), of whom 89% are regular, 7% are from the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) and 4% are Reserve. Brigade commander, Brigadier General Sithabiso Mahlobo said the exercise was costing 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 – from Saturday to tomorrow – sees SA intervene in a 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.
Young Eagle has previously taken place in October of every year. Last year’s edition was postponed to this month, for,among other reasons, the longer period of basic military training (BMT) for recruits. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) last year January 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 says. “It is important that our troops master their skills now that we deploy much more on the continent.”
Asked last week 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”.
Pic: A 6 SAI (Air Assault) Bn 81mm M3 mortar crew awaits fire orders.