The financially strapped SA Air Force (SAAF) is further extending its foreign training commitments with Russia being the latest addition.
A report has it that about 10 pilots from 2 Squadron at AFB Makhado have been selected for further training in Russia. This is a direct outflow of a co-operation agreement signed between the defence ministers of the two countries, Afrikaans weekly Rapport said.
Four pilots are already undergoing training in Cuba and according to SA National Defence Force Chief General Solly Shoke, agreements have also been entered into with the United States and the United Kingdom on various aspects of military training.
At the same time the paper reports the SAAF has experienced more resignations from the ranks of its jet pilots.
“Four of only the handful of jet fighter pilots in the SAAF have resigned leaving the force with three times as many Gripens as qualified pilots for them,” the paper said.
Making matters worse is that two test pilots based at AFB Overberg, home of the Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC), have not had their contracts renewed.
Against this background it is not surprising the original number of 18 pilots supposed to go to Russia was cut. Another reason for sending fewer jet pilots is cost. South Africa had to pay for travel and living expenses while Russia is carrying the cost of training.
The majority of those going to Russia are qualified pilots but are short of flying hours to build their experience base. The lack of flying hours, also a result of a tight budget, has contributed in no small measure to this.
Pilots at AFB Makhado told the paper their colleagues who resigned had done so because they couldn’t fly. They have apparently joined airlines or companies operating in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China.
It appears the group bound for Russia are not going to have an easy time of it. A SAAF officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Russians had made it clear no time would be wasted on pilots who cannot fly properly.