Ever-increasing demands coupled to diminishing resources are putting what was once called “The Pride of the Nation” into an unenviable situation.
According to the 2017/18 Department of Defence (DoD) annual report, the SA Air Force (SAAF) used 81% of its targeted flying hours with by far the majority of these – more than three thousand six hundred – spent on force employment.
On the face of it, good and well in view of a defence budget that shrinks year after year but when interrogated by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party MP Kobus Marais, shadow defence and military veterans minister, the picture is, to use his word, “concerning”.
As one example, the medium/heavy air transport capability of the SAAF has “only six C-130 aircraft in active service and an average of not more than two serviceable per day to conduct strategic and tactical air transport missions, mainly throughout Africa in support of SANDF external deployments”.
This is part of the official written response to questions posed by Marais as part of Parliament’s oversight function via portfolio committees, in this instance the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV).
Marais was also told that “due to limited funding, the C-130 fleet is only allocated approximately R100 million a year for the last three years while the full requirement is approximately R300 million a year to fully support the shortages experienced in enabling the capabilities required to support these aging aircraft”.
The response also points out that “continual underfunding of this capability has led to the situation where there are no C-130 float levels available in stores. The result of this systematic underfunding leads to aircraft being grounded after unscheduled failures while awaiting spares”.
This is laid at the door of Denel Aeronautics (formerly Denel Aviation), appointed as an official Lockheed Martin MRO (maintenance and repair organisation), some years ago. The words used are: “The SAAF relies heavily on local aviation industry, specifically Denel Aviation, to support C-130 with negative results due to inability of local aviation industry to perform as required.”
While the SAAF C-130 (correct model name is C-130BZ) is more than 50 years old, the answer given to Marais on the force’s light air transport capability – the Casa 212 – points out the Spanish aircraft have more than 30 years in active service.
“This leads to serious obsolescence issues. Combined with limited supportability outside the original equipment manufacturer and extensive lead times to procure and repair some components, as production lines in Europe have to be reopened, results in aircraft being unserviceable for extended periods.”