Aircraft used by the SA Air Force (SAAF) for the maritime patrol tasking are not only in short supply – they are also more than 80 years old.
Air Force Base (AFB) Ysterplaat-based 35 Squadron is the only dedicated maritime patrol and reconnaissance unit in the SAAF. It also performs light transport taskings with it C-47TP aircraft. The squadron’s transport aircraft were converted to turbine engines in 1991 and three years later the dedicated maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft were also re-engined.
Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard the squadron currently has two transport and four maritime aircraft actively in service. There is limited funding and “critical obsolescence issues” are reportedly becoming “more evident, unpredictable and expensive”.
The oversight committee was told “over the past few years major critical maintenance events occurred that had a significant impact on the availability of the C-47TP fleet”. These were not specified.
Figures given to the PCDMV indicate a pair of C-47TP aircraft available daily in the 2017/18 financial year. They were scheduled to spend 720 hours flying and managed to log 541.4 hours. The reason given is: “With only two aircraft operationally available it is difficult to guarantee sustained operational availability”.
No breakdown is supplied for the number of maritime patrol and transport hours flown.
The SAAF had zero light liaison/reconnaissance capability in the 2017/18 financial year with its entire fleet of Cessna 208s grounded. The report to the oversight committee has it the single-engined aircraft were “operationally unavailable due to [the] unavailability [of a] maintenance support contract being in place”.
Indications are AFB Waterkloof-based 41 Squadron will be airborne in January next year provided “the steady state maintenance support contract, in process to be finalised by Armscor, is in place”.