Lack of strategic airlift capability a challenge – SA DoD

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The lack of a strategic airlift capability remains a challenge and affects external deployments, according to the Department of Defence, something which has been exacerbated by the cancellation of an order for eight A400M airlifters in November 2009.

“The absence of an SANDF strategic lift capability remained a challenge which negatively impacted on the deployment and sustainment of SANDF external operations, as well as the deployment and sustainment of the SANDF’s reaction force,” the Department of Defence said in its recently released annual report for the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012. The chartering of aircraft and ships addressed this challenge, but at a very high cost to the Department of Defence (DoD).

For instance, Boeing 747, Antonov An-124 and Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft have been chartered for external deployments, such as to Burundi.

The South African Air Force’s biggest requirement is to have an aircraft big enough to carry Denel Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters with the minimum dismantling, as reassembling a medium helicopter like an Oryx is difficult in remote areas. The SAAF’s largest transport aircraft, its C-130BZ Hercules, can only take an Oryx with major dismantling, requiring the charter of Il-76 aircraft for external deployments.

Former Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, who retired on September 28, said that strategic lift, as well as maritime surveillance, were key issues facing the SAAF. An order for eight Airbus Military A400M airlifters was cancelled in 2009, but the service life of the fleet of eight C-130 Hercules has been extended from 2015 to 2020.

However, what will happen after that is not yet clear and a number of companies are offering C-130 replacements, including Lockheed Martin with its C-130J Super Hercules, Airbus with its C-295 and A400M and Alenia Aeronautica with its C-27J Spartan.