Financial and other resource constraints have not prevented the South African Air Force (SAAF) from successfully completing each and every task assigned to it, Deputy Air Force Chief Major General Jerry Malinga told a large gathering at the Air Force Day parade at AFB Waterkloof this morning.
“The Air Force is in good shape considering the restrictions it has to live with,” he said, citing the current SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment to flood ravaged Mozambique as another example of speedy reaction with limited resources where the SAAF has beaten the odds.
Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang’s second in command did not pull any punches when it came to money, more aptly the lack of it. Using the Gripen fourth generation fighter as an example, Malinga said the acquisition and operationalisation of the data link, digital reconnaissance pod and helmet-mounted display gave the Swedish jet, operated by 2 Squadron at AFB Makhado, “a world class capability”.
But he warned “inadequate funding will severely hinder maintenance and development of the system and impede transformation efforts and targets”.
On the credit side of the ledger Malinga highlighted the “heavy operational commitments” successfully completed by the SAAF helicopter line during the past year, but cautioned that “the lack of an operating budget for the A109 and the underfunding of the other systems is affecting the system integrity.”
“Rescue and sustenance of flood victims, medical and casualty evacuations, fire fighting and search and rescue operations were all in a day’s work for the helicopter fraternity.” Currently Oryx helicopters are supporting the Western Cape Disaster Management unit with fighting fires in that province.
The airborne arm of the SANDF is also contributing to Operation Rhino with BK-117’s from 15 Squadron C Flight supporting ground-based operations with aerial surveillance and tracking of suspected poachers.
This year, Malinga said, started the same as last with AFB Swartkop’s 17 Squadron in action with search and rescue operations following heavy flooding in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
“Last year it was 19 Squadron, based at AFB Hoedspruit, that excelled with rapid response to severe flooding in Limpopo and Mpumalanga….This time the Oryx helicopters of 17 Squadron were on the scene of the flooded Limpopo river within hours. These floods extended into Mozambique and the SAAF is there in force with Oryx helicopters, C-130s, Cessna Caravans and C-47TP aircraft sill operating in the flood ravaged Rio Limpopo area around Chokwe. These forces are ably supported by logistic and command and control elements from the Air Force Mobile Deployment Wing.”
Malinga added that the SANDF commitments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mozambique were well supported by the Cessna 208 Caravan and PC-12 aircraft of 41 Squadron and the C-130s of 28 Squadron. “The C-47MP supported anti-piracy operations over the Mozambique Channel with daily reconnaissance missions assisting the South African Navy.”
Other areas where the SAAF responded commendably to the high level of operational, force preparation and training tasks “in spite of limited resources and sustainable support challenges” included airspace control for high visibility events, such as the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), the attainment of the 10 000 flying hour mark milestone in October and the successful hosting of the largest Aerospace Africa and Defence (AAD) exhibition yet.
“Three hundred and forty-seven director exhibitors from 26 countries including 15 national pavilions made this, without doubt, the biggest ever AAD,” Malinga said.
The SAAF will embark on a number of strategic initiatives to alleviate funding shortfalls as changes in the pressure and challenges currently facing it are “as severe as never before” in its 93 year history he said.
“In reflecting on he past year, both the achievements and shortcomings are clearly evident. It is the shortcomings that the CAF urges all to turn their attention to.”
“These problems are being tackled with the usual vigour, tenacity and innovation that is a SAAF hallmark.”
Included in these are ways to optimise support, review contracts, and reconfigure capabilities while providing development and educational opportunities to increase productivity across the board.
“The Air Force will explore all possible means to rectify the imbalance between the Human Resource and Operating budget. This will include developing Air Force Reserves, professionalising our Protection capability and utilising MSD members more productively.”
“We will focus on system integrity at all times to ensure safety and increase aircraft availability.”
AFB Langebaanweg is the recipient of the SAAF Prestige Award for the 2012/12 year. The west coast base, commanded by Colonel Motlhokomedi Petso, was named ahead of AFB Bloemspruit and AFB Ysterplaat in the annual competition for the best unit in the SAAF.