The combat readiness of the SA Air Force (SAAF) will come under the spotlight in just over a week’s time when this year’s Exercise Winter Solstice starts in Limpopo.
This year it will take the form of a Command Post Exercise (CPX) with participation by “most SAAF operational elements and limited elements from other arms of service,” a document on the upcoming exercise reads. It is scheduled to start on July 15 and run until August 7, out of Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) in Limpopo.
Financial and other constraints in the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) have seen the curtailing of training, flying hours and even the mothballing of Gripen fighters, but this has not stood in the way of the SAAF being able to successfully complete each and every task assigned to date, according to SAAF top brass.
Winter Solstice 2013, the third of its kind, will be an indication of what shape the SAAF is in as regards combat readiness and deployment ability. Speaking at Air Force Day in February SAAF Deputy Chief Major General Jerry Malinga said the force was “in good shape considering the restrictions it has to live with”. The post exercise assessment and debrief will give the SAAF command cadre the current situation as regards the overall readiness of the air force.
Winter Solstice will see the SAAF’s operational command and control system put to the test in exploiting the full potential of air power. This system works through the Air force Command Post (AFCP), Forward Air Force Command and command posts at base and squadron level.
The system is employed for SAAF force preparation as well as for force employment by the SANDF’s chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi.
The CPX will exercise and evaluate personnel, systems and procedures in the operational command and control environment at all the different levels responsible for these functions in SAAF air operations.
Last year the exercise was headquartered at Mafikeng airport in the North West province, with aircraft flying sorties over the province from the South Africa/Botswana border down to Orkney, along the Vaal River to Douglas in Northern Cape and back to the Botswana border.
No information about flying missions and sorties for Winter Solstice III was available at the time of publication.
Another indication of how tight the SAAF budget is comes ahead of the joint South Africa/United States Exercise Shared Accord set for Eastern Cape later this month and into August.
“SAAF participation will be mostly virtual with some real-time helicopter support,” an SANDF overview of the joint peace support and humanitarian exercise said.