The top management echelon of the SA Air Force (SAAF) yesterday used words to shoot down suggestions the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was not in a position to do its job and reinforced this with a display of jet power not seen for a long time.
The words came from SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, his deputy, Major General Jerry Malinga, and other SAAF Command Council members with proof of its capability following a few hours later at the Roodewal bombing range in Limpopo.
Hosting his first media briefing more than a year after taking over command of the SAAF from Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, Msimang pulled no punches.
He said the air force was going back to basics in its quest to fulfil its mandate as a properly structured, managed and disciplined military force. He also quashed rumours about non-availability and grounding of aircraft, closure of bases and a lack of maintenance and technical ability.
This was reinforced by Malinga who told the briefing: “The air force plans and manages properly. There are challenges but we manage them as well”.
Msimang for once and all put to rest the storage/mothballing/grounding of aircraft.
“The air force can and does put the required number of aircraft on the line daily. It’s all about optimum management of the various aircraft types in the inventory. There are no aircraft in storage just as no aircraft are grounded.”
Hours later the Limpopo bombing range hosted its second air capability demonstration (ACD) of the year where the words of the CAF and his senior command were, in no uncertain terms, supported by an air power display that included no less than 10 SAAF jets in the air at one time.
A simulated single Gripen reconnaissance flight was followed by a simulated combat air patrol, followed by a simulated two versus one dogfight with a Hawk being outmanoeuvred before being “shot down” by a pair of Gripens.
As a finale, a five ship formation of Hawks performed a low level, high speed flypast followed by a Gripen five-ship doing the same and ending with 2 Squadron Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Musa Mbhokota (callsign “Midnite”) pouring on the power in a near vertical climb and releasing flares.
One ACD guest remarked that the 10 jets “for once and all put to rest talk of the SAAF ‘only’ having six or so jet pilots”.
Other specialist military aviation skills ably demonstrated at Roodewal included air drops of both supplies, men and equipment (17, 19 and 28 Squadrons) and search and rescue (15 Squadron, C Flight).
The only absentee was Rooivalk. This Major General Cedric Masters, Director: Policy and Planning, explained was in the light of the imminent deployment of three of the home-grown combat support helicopters to the DRC as part of MONUSCO’s aviation inventory.