Slick SAAF air capability demo in spite of austerity

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Austerity does not mean inefficiency. This was ably proven by the SA Air Force (SAAF) during its air capability demonstration at the Roodewal bombing range in Limpopo yesterday.

In common with the three other arms of service, the Air Force is also under severe budgetary pressure and this meant the demonstration, one of the highlights of the SAAF calendar, was downscaled. The most obvious thing missing was 2 Squadron’s Gripens.

In their place, 85 Combat Flying School’s Hawk Mk 120 Lead-In Fighter Trainers ably filled the gap with precision bomb drops and cannon fire to support ground-based troops engaged in a “battle” with enemy forces.

A pair of Rooivalk combat support helicopters from 16 Squadron also showed the effectiveness of this home-grown product. In addition to a number of rocket volleys, the nose cannons also provided effective air support for troops moving onto a target on the ground. One Rooivalk’s nose weapon suffered a feed problem but hovered menacingly until its place could be taken by the number two ship which kept the “enemy” pinned down on one flank allowing speedy advances to be made by infantry troops.

The Oryx medium helicopter, the SAAF’s workhorse rotorcraft, again showed its usefulness by inserting and evacuating troops, either by way of landing under fire or disgorging a stick of infantrymen via the long rope method. Oryx from 17 and 19 Squadrons also landed a Gecko vehicle and an 81 mm mortar team before put putting into the casevac role and finally moving troops away from the “battlefield” (120 mm mortars were absent this year due to funding constraints).

In what was probably one of the most spectacular manoeuvres of the day, a five man infantry stick was evacuated hanging from a heavy rope slung below the rotorcraft, guns at the ready in the event of an attack.

A welcome addition to the air capability demonstration was a large screen showing images collected by the ARGOS (Airborne Reconnaissance Ground Observation System) mounted on an orbiting 41 Squadron Cessna 208.

Along with expert commentary the images kept spectators, including the current Executive National Security Protection Course, the Senior Staff Course and the Warrant Officer Staff course, fully up to date on activities as they unfolded on the range and environs.

Speaking before the demonstration started, SAAF Deputy Chief Major General Jerry Malinga said the Air Capability Demonstration was designed to show the flexibility, mobility, battlefield interdiction, surveillance and firepower of the airborne arm of service.
“While not on display today, the VIP part of the SAAF’s mandate is also important as this is part of the national diplomatic effort to put peace and security in place before having to revert to the other services the air force provides.
“What you are seeing today is part of the one force concept where the air force works hands in glove with the Army, SA Military Health Services and Special Forces. The air force does the same with the Navy, all in the interests of protecting South Africa’s sovereignty as well as working towards a stable and peaceful continent,” he said.

Click here to access the Air Capability Demonstration gallery.