The resource-stressed SA Air Force (SAAF) is still, to paraphrase Deputy Chief Major General Jerry Malinga, undertaking and completing the tasks assigned it.
Two examples are the ongoing border protection, including anti-poaching, and counter-piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel.
An ageing C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft is permanently based in the Mozambican port city of Pemba to provide extra eyes for the tri-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) counter-piracy effort Operation Copper. The 35 Squadron aircraft is maintained and kept airworthy by technical personnel from AFB Ysterplaat but returns to the Cape Town air force base for major service, said SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton.
“The Dak, along with a Super Lynx from 22 Squadron also based at AFB Ysterplaat deployed aboard one of the Navy’s frigates, is the SAAF’s ongoing contribution to Operation Copper.”
When both are airborne they significantly extend the effective range of the frigate to search for and locate suspected pirates.
If a frigate is not on station in the Mozambican Channel, the Navy presence is either through its replenishment ship, SAS Drakensberg, or one of the converted Warrior Class strikecraft, now serving as offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), until such time as the SANDF’s maritime arm of service acquires new vessels for this purpose. A project study for the acquisition of three inshore and three offshore patrol vessels has been completed and the Navy is expecting to take delivery of the first new acquisitions in the next four years.
SANDF Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, last month extended South Africa’s commitment to Operation Copper until the end of March next year. Mozambique and Tanzania are also contributing to the operation.
While Operation Corona, the country’s border protection effort, is land-based, the SAAF does provide assistance when requested.
“Helicopters, either Agusta A109 or Oryx, are deployed from time to time to assist in Operation Corona,” Paxton said.
“An Agusta from 17 Squadron at AFB Zwartkop has been utilised in counter-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park when requested by the force commander on the ground there. This generally happens over full moon periods but is not always the case as SANParks now deploy their own rotorcraft for this purpose. The last time a SAAF helicopter was tasked in Kruger was December last year.”
In March last year, An A109 crashed in the world-famous game reserve, killing all five aboard. Apart from the two man aircrew, three members of 5 Special Forces Regiment in Phalaborwa died in the crash, which occurred at night.