A long history of dissatisfaction about the lack of priority given to maintenance of military bases and facilities by the Department of Public Works (DPW) has come to a head as a result of 10 months of self-supplied electricity at AFB Makhado.
This has seen the base’s operational funding diverted to fuel generators to supply power. A large portion of this funding was allocated to maintenance and flying hours for 2 Squadron Gripens and 85 Combat Flying School Hawk Mk120s Afrikaans daily Beeld reports.
The main electricity supply station at the base has been out of order since October. It exploded apparently due to a lack of regular maintenance and the base has since then had to rely on generators for power.
It is estimated it will cost up to R5 million to repair the power supply station but the SA Air Force (SAAF), as the operator of the base, is not allowed to appoint a contractor to do the work. This is because it is the responsibility of DPW.
Senior SAAF officers confirmed to both Beeld and defenceWeb that an urgent funds injection of at least R300 million was needed to restore normality at AFB Makhado. This will see the base’s power supply reconnected and also enable funds currently going to power generation to be put to their original allocation that of maintenance of the high-tech jet aircraft based there.
An additional R500 million is also required to prevent the SAAF having to possibly even lose the ability to keep the Gripens, Hawks and other air assets, including the Agusta A109 helicopters airworthy.
“This money is needed within the next eight months or these aircraft won’t take to the air again,” one officer said on condition of anonymity.
Twelve of 2 Squadron’s 26 Gripens have already been mothballed and the miniscule allocation for A109 flying hours could see 18 pilots lose their currency ratings on the rotorcraft. According to reports the majority of the A109 fleet is basically grounded with engine and system start-ups done from time to time in an attempt to keep them airworthy.
To date in the region of R50 million has been spent on proving generator power for AFB Makhado. This money could have paid for 300 Gripen flying hours.
Unhappiness with the lack of response from DPW as far as maintenance of military bases and facilities goes back at least five years to when current SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke was SA Army Chief. He resuscitated the Works Regiment in an attempt to provide at least some base and facility maintenance within the military establishment. This was later expanded to a Works Formation that would provide much-needed construction and allied services to the entire SANDF.
It is said to be in the finalisation stage of appointments and taskings as well as establishing provincial units ahead of full operations.
Shoke has reportedly taken personal charge of rectifying the AFB Makhado situation and has met with chiefs of all four arms of service and DPW officials to state “for once and all” the SANDF’s case as regards DPW’s obligations to it.