The South African Air Force yesterday held its live fire Air Capability Demonstration at the Roodewal bombing range outside Polokwane, successfully demonstrating its various abilities. The Air Force is busy preparing for Exercise Savannah Thunder, which will use many of the same aircraft deployed for the Demonstration.
A wide variety of aircraft were dispatched for the biennial event, including Gripens from 2 Squadron, Hawks from 85 Combat Flying School, Rooivalks from 16 Squadron, Oryx from 17 and 19 Squadrons, a C-212 from 44 Squadron, C208 Caravans from 41 Squadron, BK 117s from 15 Squadron and a C-130 Hercules from 28 Squadron.
The exercise serves as an opportunity for the Air Force to demonstrate its strength and ability to respond to a variety of situations, from reconnaissance to search and rescue to interdiction. Colonel Rama Iyer (SAAF Director Basic Flying Training) said that the Air Capability Demonstration (ACD) was designed to give a snapshot of the three main pinnacles of air power, including mobility, information and firepower.
The demonstration kicked off with a simulated offensive, with Hawks conducting a reconnaissance run over the target, while a Gripen performed a combat air patrol. The activity was noticed by enemy troops on the ground, who shot at the Gripen, forcing it to launch decoy flares.
Next two Oryx helicopters with Bambi buckets were dispatched to put out a simulated fire. A significant portion of the exercise was made up of troop insertion and extraction (including a combat search and rescue exercise) using Oryx and BK 117 helicopters, supported by four Rooivalks firing their 20 mm cannon and 70 mm rockets.
What is unique about the ACD is the use of live ammunition and ordnance, from door gunners’ machineguns to the soldiers’ 81 mm mortars and the Rooivalk’s rockets. Meanwhile, the six Gripens and six Hawks dropped live bombs on the range, kicking up spectacular dust clouds that rose hundreds of metres into the air. Such a spectacle is the only time invited dignitaries and guests are able to witness live weapon firing at close range, with the bombs landing around a kilometre away from the assembled guests.
Apart from live firing, the demonstration also covered many of the SAAF’s other capabilities, such as transport and reconnaissance. A Casa 212 and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules were tasked with dropping cargo while a spectacular flare release was conducted by two Rooivalks and an Oryx. A Cessna 208 Caravan loitered around the target area, displaying imagery from its surveillance turret on a nearby screen.
According to Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, the demonstration was not just about dropping bombs and burning jet fuel, or even giving pilots a chance to use their armament – it was a broad learning opportunity. In addition to the aircraft, the SAAF deployed a tactical station complete with kitchens, showers, tents, an operations room, communications station etc. “We must optimise these learning opportunities,” Gagiano said, as South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members need to take part in two local deployments before being sent overseas.
As the ACD is also about co-operation with the others arms of the South African National Defence Force, members of the Army and South African Military Health Service were also present.
Yesterday’s demonstration is being followed by Exercise Savannah Thunder, a combined military/air operation conducted on a larger scale than the ACD. Planning is taking place today and tomorrow, to be followed by the flying portion of the exercise on Monday and Tuesday, with aircraft departing on Wednesday.
According to Colonel J C J Butler, SAAF Senior Staff Officer Combat Operations, the exercise will focus on the simulated withdrawal of non-combatants from a foreign country and will involve fighter and transport aircraft. A combat search and rescue will take place, involving Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters providing fire support for the rescue team. Gagiano said six Gripens and five Hawks would take part, as well as Oryx, Caravans, C-130s, C-212s and an electronic warfare aircraft (C-47TP).
Gagiano added that the Air Force would be ready for Winter Solstice to be held in the same place in the middle of the year, while next year it would be prepared for a Southern African Development Community exercise in Angola.