The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, was in Sweden earlier this month to brief Aerospace Forum Sweden on the roles, capabilities and budgetary restraints of the South African Air Force.
The SAAF has many roles, both within the country, the wider Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Africa as a whole, Gagiano said at the Forum, held in Linkoping between May 31 and June 3. The current Defence Review prioritises the South African National Defence Force’s main roles as being peacekeeping and border/maritime security.
However, meeting these objectives is difficult when funds are in short supply. Gagiano said the SAAF has so far gotten by through the optimisation of its resources, but such efforts can be nullified by a rise in fuel prices, for example.
“We are at the limits now,” said Gagiano, as important budget decisions are imminent “and optimisation is not going to do the trick any more.”
The prevention of wildlife poaching is an important South African Air Force (SAAF) mission. Nearly 450 rhinoceros were killed in the last year, said Gagiano.
“We must spread the word that the powder of the rhino horn does nothing for you, it’s a myth.” As an aside, the SAAF actually owns 14 rhino on one of their bombing ranges “but we keep them well away from the bombing,” the General added.
The SAAF’s Hawk advanced jet trainers and JAS 39 C/D Gripens are based together in the north of the country and may be used for things like anti-piracy patrols and anti-poaching duties.
Talking of the SAAF’s fighters and trainers, Gagiano said that, “We have Gripenised the Hawk cockpit so that the transition is almost seamless.”
Both types, as well as PC-7 trainers and AW109 helicopters, were used in the air policing role during the 2010 Football World Cup. Because many of the games were at night, the Gripen’s FLIR pod was extensively used and using the JAS 39D two-seat Gripens allowed the workload between the radar and FLIR to be shared between the cockpits.
“We achieved much, much more with this team than we would have with a single-seat aircraft,” said Gagiano.
The Gripens flew 259 hours in support of the World Cup.
Gagiano said that one of the SAAF’s more unique missions was supporting a visit by President Jacob Zuma to Libya for negotiations in May last year. A C-130 transported the presidential entourage, including Special Forces to Tripoli and then flew on to Malta.
“For the first time that I can remember, if ever, that we have sort of touched NATO and we have no command and control systems whatever to deal with operational issues with NATO, so this was pretty much a mobile phone call to a command post to allow the C-130 to fly in [Libyan air space] at certain arranged times and fly back and pick up the equipment.”
The last four of 26 Gripens for South Africa will be delivered this year and the SAAF will soon integrate the Thales Joint Reconnaissance Pod on the aircraft. The final four Gripen Cs will be delivered in August. They participated in Exercise Lion Effort in Sweden in March/April, where South African pilots ‘shot down’ nine other Gripens for the ‘loss’ of one during simulated combat. SAAF Gripens also took part in static and flying displays during the Forum.
Whilst in Sweden, Gagiano was awarded the Order of the Polar Star for his excellent bilateral cooperation with Sweden in connection with the introduction of Gripens to the South African Air force and for his promotion of Swedish interests.