The Air Force Prestige Day address by Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang on 31 January was widely anticipated to shed some light on probably the thorniest question of 2020 for South Africa’s wider military aviation community: is the SA Air Force (SAAF) acknowledging its place in international military aviation as being 100 years old?
Instead and probably diplomatically his best option, Msimang virtually ignored the anniversary, concentrating on education, cyber warfare, the environment, the fourth industrial revolution and terrorism, ethnic nationalism and fundamentalism (TENF) among others. These were all seen to be part of making the airborne arm of the South African military one that will protect territorial integrity and ensure the authority of the State is maintained into the future.
He pointed out the Department of Defence (DoD) “has been forced to continuously adjust its plans downward”.
“This is myopic and short term thinking. This is dangerous. The national defence force is the nation’s insurance policy,” he said adding it was “crucial” for South Africa to develop a fit for purpose defence force.
This force should be agile enough both physically and intellectually to move seamlessly between traditional mandated tasks and functions and the “demanding new environments of cybersecurity and cyber-resilience, proxy forces, hybrid warfare, transnational crime, climate change as well as peace support operations to mention a few”.
So whether one chooses to mark 100 years of the SAAF or 25 going on 26 years of a democratic air force is open to personal interpretation.
The current chief of the air force – the fifth since democracy and overall the 21st SAAF air chief – is thinking of the air force of the future, not the one either 25/26 or 100 years old.