The South African Air Force (SAAF) on 1 June held its annual Air Capability Demonstration at the Roodewal weapons range in Limpopo, which for the first time featured the Super Lynx helicopter and armoured vehicles.
The event started off in the afternoon with pathfinders being parachuted into the battle zone. This was followed by two Hawks dropping bombs onto the range, and later firing their 30 mm cannons. A bomb damage assessment was flown by a Gripen – Gripens and Hawks later engaged in a mock dogfight. A total of six Gripens and four Hawks took part in the demonstration. Also on the sharp end, a single Rooivalk attack helicopter painted in white United Nations colours provided close air support with its 70 mm rockets and 20 mm cannon.
The Oryx was the workhorse during the demonstration, and in addition to dropping water from bambi buckets, flew in troops and cargo and later lifted soldiers off the battlefield. The main component of the demonstration saw Oryx helicopters take part in a ground battle during which soldiers fired small arms, RPGs and mortars at the simulated enemy. This year’s demonstration saw the qualification of a black female Oryx pilot.
One of the scenarios enacted by the Air Force was the evacuation of a downed pilot and this was done with a BK 117 supported by an A109. An Oryx also enacted the rescue of an injured stretcher-bound member.
On the transport front, a single C-130 Hercules and a C212 dropped cargo into the operational area. 28 Squadron, which flies C-130s, marked its birthday on 1 June, as it was formed on 1 June 1943 as the first transport squadron in the SAAF.
This year’s demonstration was unique in that a Super Lynx maritime helicopter took part for the first time, showing that even though it is a naval asset it can work with forces on the ground. At Roodewal it fired its door-mounted weapon.
Another unique element of this year’s display was participation by vehicles. This included Denel’s Africa Truck, and a Ratel. An Oryx dropped cargo onto the Africa Truck, which also fired its 7.62 mm remotely operated machinegun at targets on the range. Denel hopes the RG31-based Africa Truck will replace the Samils in service with the South African Army. Brigadier General Kobus Butler, Director Combat Systems, said vehicles were added to the demonstration for the first time and maybe more ground forces could be added in the future.
The first part of the demonstration took place in the afternoon and then after a break for speeches, the evening show started. This included night firing of weapons by troops and vehicles on the ground and aircraft, mass flypasts and flare releases by Oryx, Gripen and C-130 aircraft. The demonstration concluded with a wall of fire that lit up the evening sky.
In addition to SAAF elements, the demonstration also included the participation of Special Forces from Joint Operations, airborne forces from the SA Army and medical personnel from the SA Military Health Services.
The demonstration was well attended by the military diplomatic corps, industry and the media, and included delegations from Cuba, Angola and Nigeria – the chiefs of the Angolan and Nigerian air forces (General Francisco Lopes Gonçalves Afonso and Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar respectively) were present.
“I am exceptionally humbled and honoured to host the two air chiefs of two of Africa’s formidable air forces… Some of us here today received our basic and advanced military training in your countries. We are leaders today because of the tools you gave us and it behoves us to pay it forward,” said Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang.
General Butler said he thought the demonstration went very well in spite of hiccups (a bomb on one of the Hawks got hung up and had to be released on another pass).
“This annual exercise includes joint training, joint and autonomous force preparation and the test and evaluation of aspects of our air power doctrine, which is updated continuously,” Msimang told assembled guests.
“The level of defence ambition requires our Defence Force to be appropriately equipped, resourced and trained in support of South Africa’s national security, national interest, foreign policy and promoting the African Agenda. During this current period of resource constraints, our air power capabilities will continue to be optimally used to defend and protect our territorial airspace, as well as ensure the provision of support to our landward and maritime defence strategies.
“It is for this reason that the SAAF is committed to ensure that partnerships with the defence industry and in particular the South African defence industry are enhanced, to a level that all our requirements are satisfied effectively.”
The Air Capability Demonstration is designed as a training exercise for two of the Department of Defence’s flagship courses: the Security and Defence Studies Programme (SDSP) and the SANDF’s Joint Senior Command and Staff Course (SCSC). The members of these courses are able to see air power at the strategic and operational levels of war and to showcase how air power is applied.
Moreover, the demonstration provides the SAAF with an opportunity to display its collaboration and inter-operability capabilities with other South African National Defence Force (SANDF) arms of service.
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