Big bangs before Armed Forces Day


The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) hosted a spectacular capability demonstration at the De Brug range outside Bloemfontein on Tuesday.

As part of events leading up to Armed Forces Day on 21 February in Kimberley, the SANDF hosted a public capability demonstration at De Brug on Sunday 18 February, which was well received, especially by the citizens of Kimberley who were transported to the event.

Tuesday’s demonstration was even more spectacular, with the SANDF pulling out all the stops, firing off most of its weapons in a massive mock battle involving hundreds of vehicles and aircraft.

The demonstration was split into daylight and dusk portions. It began with a pathfinder parachute drop from a C212 – they landed without incident in the balmy weather. This was followed by a mock dogfight between Hawk and Gripen combat jets and then literally earth-shattering explosions set off by Army engineers.

The Air Force was then back in action as C-130 transports dropped cargo by parachute and then some 60 paratroopers. As soon as they were clear of the exercise area, Ratels drove up and debussed infantry, who engaged mock targets with small arms.

Then the heavy hitters roared onto the battlefield, with Rooikat armoured cars and Olifant tanks kicking up the dust and firing their cannons.

The demonstration culminated in an epic battle that saw Oryx helicopters airlift troops to and from the battlefield and Rooivalk attack helicopters provide top cover. Dozens of armoured vehicles advanced on their objectives, firing everything from machineguns to tank cannons.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) worked seamlessly with the forces on the ground, and dropped a number of bombs. Very unusually, both Gripens and Hawks fired their cannons – usually it is the Hawks that do cannon runs and the Gripens that drop bombs at demonstrations. Spectators were also treated to the sight of five Gripens in formation.

The two Rooivalk attack helicopters in attendance demonstrated the type of flying they sometimes do during peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raining 20 mm cannon fire down and unleashing 70 mm rockets onto the battlefield.

After the main battle and vehicle parade to salute the Chief of the SANDF, the Silver Falcons put on a spirited display for assembled guests, who were also treated to solo displays by the Hawk and Gripen, which included multiple flare releases.

The second part of the demonstration took place at dusk and saw all hell unleashed by the SANDF – Rooivalks launched rockets, and cannon rounds, and the individual weapons of the South African Army were fired off individually and then all together. This included assault rifles, machineguns, RPGs, mortars, Ratel 90 mm rounds and Olifant tank rounds.

Air defence and artillery had their turn as well, blasting off salvos of 20, 23 and 35 mm anti-aircraft rounds that arced into the sky, while the artillery formation fired G5 and G6 155 mm howitzers as well as Bateleur rockets.

Chief of the SANDF General Solly Shoke said the capability demonstration was part of normal training but was held in the runup to Armed Forces Day to show the public what the armed forces do. “We train to be ready at all times,” he said, and added that the response from the people of Kimberley who previously came to witness the demonstration was “overwhelming”.

Armed Forces Day events in Kimberley are due to kick off at 8:00 on Wednesday with a parade presided over by Commander-in-Chief Cyril Ramaphosa, who will take salute from members of the SANDF on parade.

Spectators will be treated to a military precision march past by soldiers on parade including a mechanised column drive-by followed by aircraft in formation flypast.

Ramaphosa on Sunday paid tribute to the SANDF at an inter-faith church service in Kimberley ahead of Armed Forces Day, which he said “has become a day that allows us to remember all men and women who paid the ultimate price in defence of freedom, peace, and justice. It is a day that reminds us that blood was spilled by countless South Africans and freedom fighters to guarantee us our freedom and human rights. It is a reminder that brave men and women continue to put their lives on the line to secure our hard-won freedoms and defend our Constitution.”
“This year, these celebrations…occur as our nation celebrates the change of leadership in the governing party without any appetite for senseless bloodshed because our defence force is led by wise women and men who abide to the ideal of the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said.

Click here to view the gallery.