Exercise Winter Solstice approaches

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The South African Air Force (SAAF) will on Friday kick off its annual operational readiness exercise, Winter Solstice 2012, in the North West Province.

Mafikeng Airport, with a 4 500 x 45 metre runway, was chosen for the exercise due to the size of the airfield and the relatively low air traffic volume in and around the area. Aircraft taking part in Winter Solstice will exercise over large parts of the North West Province, from the South African/Botswana border down to Orkney, along the Vaal River to Douglas in the Northern Cape and then up back up to the Botswana border.

Winter Solstice will commence on Friday when the first elements start with mobilisation at various centres around the country, the Department of Defence said. Movement to the North West Province, with Mafikeng as the main operating base, will commence on Monday July 23, from where extensive air operations will be conducted.

The exercise will focus on operational planning and execution from a Regional Air Force Command Post. It will involve a multinational campaign scenario with the main emphasis on command and control procedures. These aspects of operations are to be exercised to validate and enhance the combat readiness of the South African Air Force, the Department of Defence said, as the chief of the Air Force needs to confirm combat readiness on an annual basis.

The exercise culminates in a final showdown of participating forces in which the South African Air Force will host two open days on August 3 and 4 at Mafikeng International Airport. Participants will demobilise and return to their home units on August 6.

Last year, Exercise Winter Solstice was conducted in the Eastern Cape during extreme winter conditions. Over 500 SAAF personnel were deployed in the Bhisho area. Then, the exercise consisted of Blue and Red forces war gaming a real-time scenario in order to evaluate the SAAF’s operational capabilities and combat readiness.

The objectives then were as follows:
· To evaluate the SAAF’s deployability.
· To enhance and evaluate the SAAF’s comprehensive defence operational capabilities.
· To develop a common understanding of military interoperability and foster mutual trust, respect and co-operation in the SAAF.
· To evaluate and upgrade operational readiness, means and methods.
· To evaluate co-operation and networking between stakeholders and civil aviation authorities and partners like Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) and the Airports Company of South Africa.



It is expected that a large number of aircraft will be deployed to surrounding airfields, including Gripen and Hawk jets, Cessna Caravan utility aircraft and Agusta A109, Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters. Other systems could include Tactical Mobile Radars, Mobile Ground Signal Intelligence Systems and communication equipment.