The South African Air Force is operating five of its nine Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, as the others are either being serviced or are awaiting inspections.
In an interview with defenceWeb, Colonel Jurgens Prinsloo, Officer Commanding 28 Squadron at AFB Waterkloof in Pretoria, and Warrant Officer Hendrik J B Pretorius, took the opportunity to clear up the question of just how many C-130BZ aircraft were operational with the South African Air Force (SAAF).
“We’ve got nine aircraft. Some of the aircraft are going through servicing cycles. Currently, you can’t have all nine aircraft flying. It’s a question of staggering of the services,” Prinsloo said.
C-130 number 404 damaged a nosewheel on landing some years ago. “That aircraft (404) had potential damage, so that needs to be repaired, and the other two aircraft, the one had the wings inspected, so it needs to go through major service as well and 408, one of the American B models also needs a major service,” Prinsloo added.
“What’s confusing is we average about three aircraft per day. I think that’s what’s causing the stories because there are only three aircraft flying. Out of the nine that we’ve got, there are three that are waiting for servicing and one at a time are waiting for inspections. So we’re operating five aircraft of the fleet at a time,” Pretorius said.
Pretorius explained that it was his responsibility to keep the aircraft flying for six months or 150 flying hours reached, whichever came first. He said when the aircraft was getting near the limit, it was assigned to short flights, such as the one this reporter flew with to Hoedspruit, to practice landings and take-offs. That flight took two hours.
Prinsloo confirmed that there was a plan for a SAAF airlift into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should the government give the go-ahead for South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to join the UN Intervention Brigade there.
“That’s been planned in terms of that Intervention Force. As we all know, the Intervention Force has been approved by the United Nations. What the timelines are I’m not too up-to-date on that, but obviously there is some planning in terms of logistics. Because it’s a big force, the Intervention Brigade to my knowledge consists of South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique,” he said.
Prinsloo said the SAAF C-130s regularly flew to Sudan, DRC and Uganda, including Lubumbashi, Kinshasa, Goma, Beni, Bunia and Entebbe, as Entebbe is the logistic hub for MONUSCO in the eastern DRC.
28 Squadron has nine C-130BZs on its inventory to fulfil tasks ranging from logistic support for SA National Defence Force continental peacekeeping and peace support operations, humanitarian operations, support to the landward force, and general airlift.
The C-130BZs were scheduled to be replaced by Airbus’ new generation A400M airlifter, but this order was cancelled due to delays in production, and cost escalations. A deposit of R3.5 billion, paid to Airbus as a risk taking partner in the A400M programme, has been refunded to government but has not been allocated to aircraft acquisition.
The SAAF maintains it can operate its ageing fleet of C-130BZ Hercules until 2020 but what will replace them after that date is not yet clear.