A SA National Defence Force (SANDF) project team is burning the midnight oil on an urgent study to ensure extra airlift capacity for the SA Air Force (SAAF) becomes a reality.
Afrikaans daily Beeld reports Ilyushin 76s (Il-76s) are top of the list to supplement the ageing C-130BZs operated by 28 Squadron.
The acquisition of at least three of the massive Russian transport aircraft, probably second hand, is seen as essential to providing support for South African peacekeeping and peace support deployments on the continent.
The acquisition will be paid for out of the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP), the paper reported.
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman told the paper the establishment of the airlift project team could be traced back to the Central African Republic (CAR) deployment and the Battle for Bangui earlier this year. This because no suitable aircraft were available at short notice to fly much-needed Mamba vehicles to South African troops.
Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of the C-130, has made presentations to the SAAF as regards replacing the BZ, which has been in service for 50 years, with the new C-130J. The gap in airlift capacity became more pronounced when government bailed out of the Airbus Military A400M programme in 2009 citing cost escalations and production delays as the reasons for South Africa no longer wanting to be a risk sharing partner in the new generation airlifter. A deposit of R3.5 billion was refunded but indications earlier this year were at least part of that money was allocated to the controversial Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
Heitman told Beeld’s specialist defence writer Erika Gibson the SAAF has never before operated Russian aircraft and, if Il-76s were acquired, it would mean an overhaul of the logistic system to keep them operational. There are also currently no SAAF pilots rated on the Il-76.
The SANDF has used chartered Il-76s to transport equipment to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo for peacekeeping missions, as it is difficult to fit aircraft like Oryx helicopters into the SAAF’s C-130s without major dismantling. Chartering aircraft is an expensive undertaking – for example the SANDF spent R108 million chartering aircraft for operations in the Central African Republic between January and April this year.
The Il-76 is a four-engined strategic airlifter that first flew in March 1971. Nearly a thousand of these robust aircraft have been built for military and commercial operators around the world, with hundred still in service. The aircraft can carry between 42 and 52 tonnes of payload, depending on the model.