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PostPosted: 19 Dec 2023, 11:15 
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The Year 2023: Per Aspera Ad Astra?

A year end message by Dean Wingrin (Webmaster)

The South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) motto is "Per Aspera Ad Astra", meaning "Through Adversity to the Stars." It could just as well be “Absque argento omnia vana,” (“Without money all is in vain).

At the end of 2022, I wrote that an insufficient (and decreasing) budget resulted in maintenance backlogs, groundings, skills shortages and loss of capabilities in an environment where mission output demands increased. I also noted that after a decade of negative outlook on the future of the SAAF, it’s easy to become jaded. I noted further that it appeared that things have changed, not a lot, but there were small green shoots of encouraging news.

So, has anything changed?

Yes, things have changed. Unfortunately, not for the better.

2023 in review

The year started off positively enough with the release of application forms for the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) 2024 intake (pilot, navigator, engineering and other support careers) and that the SAAF Museum air show is back after a three-year hiatus. The Museum air show’s temporary removal from the national aviation calendar was in line with government regulations to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Friday, 27 January saw the SAAF stage its annual Prestige Day parade in the wake of its prestige awards at the Air Force Mobile Deployment Wing, formally known as AFB Swartkop, with operational combat aircraft including Hawk jets participating. A sizeable number of aircraft took part in the Prestige Day parade, including BK 117 and Rooivalk helicopters, Hawk lead-in fighter-trainers and the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team. Due to a shortage of jet fuel at the airforce bases due to procurement issues, visiting SAAF aircraft had to refuel at civilian airports.

Chief of the SAAF Lt Gen Wiseman Mbambo has said that medium and strategic airlift are at the centre of the SAAF’s attention due to its commitments on the African continent. Mbambo’s comments come amid reports that National Treasury is allocating funding for C-130 Hercules aircraft.

February started off on a tragic note with news that a SAAF crew member, 17 Squadron flight engineer Sergeant Vusimusi Mabena, was killed and another crew member wounded after their Oryx transport helicopter was hit by gunfire in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sunday 5 February. The Oryx was operating a mid-afternoon flight from Beni to Goma when the Oryx was hit by a rebel sniper, which also wounded the pilot in command Major Omolemo Matlapeng in the shoulder, leaving co-pilot Captain Matthew Allen to fly their Oryx to safety.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's presidential jet, Boeing BBJ Inkwazi, was damaged in February after being struck by a bird shortly before landing at the Cape Town International Airport. The Boeing business jet reportedly sustained further damage when it was towed to one of the SAA Technical hangars and the tail caught the steel beams inside. Thankfully, the aircraft was repaired shortly thereafter.

A rescue conducted under the standing Operation Chariot tasking to provide humanitarian assistance during times of natural or other disasters, saw a SAAF medium transport helicopter of 17 Squadron in action over the flooded Letaba River in the Tzaneen area of Limpopo.

Richards Bay hosted the 2023 round of Armed Forces Day (AFD) commemorations and events during February, which saw naval ships from the Chinese, Russian and South African navies alongside in the Richard Bay small craft harbour ahead of the joint international maritime Exercise Mosi II.

The last week of February saw the release of the 2023/24 Budget by National Treasury. With no real increase in defence funding, R3 billion was allocated to strengthen border security. As part of this allocation, a ring-fenced R1 billion will be used to upgrade the existing C-130BZ Hercules fleet. Of the R51.1 billion allocated for 2023/24, Air Defence received R7.1 billion.
As I said at the time, the SA Air Force is struggling to keep its Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters flying, yet helicopter funds are down 30% for 2023/24, although the transport budget is increasing, indicating funding for new equipment or upgrades. The SANDF is so severely underfunded it cannot meet the commitments required of it in terms of its mandate and defence policy. Costs are increasing by more than the small budget increase received, yet the SANDF is still required to deliver more with less.

Absque argento omnia vana.

As if to reinforce the point, it was then reported that major underfunding meant that two of the most important helicopter types in the South African Air Force – the Oryx transport and Rooivalk attack helicopter – are largely grounded, with only a handful serviceable at present, with cuts to the defence budget mean there is little prospect of the situation improving.
On 15 February, Armscor reported to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on the maintenance status of the fleets, stating that of the 11 airframes in the Rooivalk fleet, only four are serviceable, with seven either unserviceable or undergoing maintenance. Of the 23 engines in the fleet, only 13 are serviceable. The situation for the Oryx is not much better, with just seven serviceable out of a total of 39 in the fleet. Thirteen are at Denel for servicing while 19 Oryx are at squadrons awaiting servicing.

In another briefing, Armscor reminded the committee that due to funding and skills constraints at Denel Dynamics, it has developed a viable alternative model for further development and production of the A-Darter for the SAAF. The SAAF has only received eight inert practice A-Darter missiles from Denel Dynamics, and manufacture of the full complement of trainer and operational missiles is still outstanding. The A-Darter was developed jointly with Brazil under Project Assegai, with Denel Dynamics to deliver eight practice missiles, 21 trainer missiles, and 41 operational missiles to the SAAF. Continued delays mean the A-Darter, which should have been completed in 2015, is already seeing some obsolescence in certain areas. Limited re-engineering will be required before production can commence. In the meantime, the South African Air Force continues to use the interim IRIS-T missile, which was acquired from Germany in 2009.

Absque argento omnia vana.

March saw the completion of a hangar refurbishment project at AFB Durban The hangar refurbishment started in February 2022 with a Transnet team and contractors doing refurbishment of the 15 Squadron servicing hangar. Work was done on an overhead crane, hangar doors, roof, pillars and flooring.

After a Mozambican military helicopter failed to rescue a stranded Mozambican from a flooded river, a SAAF Oryx crew managed to finally hoist the stranded man to safety in difficult and dangerous conditions. The SAAF helicopter crews continued to provide rescue services throughout the country during the year.

In April we reported that the SAAF had partnered with a team of giant eagles to patrol the skies and keep the country safe. Our annual April Fool report caught a number of people hook, line and sinker!

In May, a SAAF Museum Kudu light aircraft experienced an engine failure and landed safely in a field. The crew emerged uninjured and no damage to the aircraft, which was recovered by road back to the AF MDW airfield.

Late June saw thirteen young men and women of the SAAF awarded their coveted Wings at a Commission and Wings Insignia Parade held at AFB Langebaanweg. For the proud students of Pilot Wing Course 129B and Navigator Wings Course 70, the journey was not smooth as the impact of Covid and aircraft availability delayed and prolonged the training.

Chief of the South African Air Force, Lt Gen Wiseman Mbambo, observed that the primary mandate of the South African National Defence Force is to defend and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic of South Africa, including safeguarding its land, air and maritime borders against external threats. “However,” he remarked, “there exist inconsistency between the defence allocation and its mandate. The Department of Defence currently receives less than 1% percent of GDP as its budget. Compared to other militaries in the region, this is miniscule and places an untenable burden on our ability to effectively fulfil our mandate.”

Absque argento omnia vana.

In July we reported on the establishment of the South African Space Command Section (SASCS) to manage and coordinate all defence-related space activities in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and other government agencies.

During the month, Lt-Gen Mbambo took part in an operations readiness session for senior SAAF officers to hammer home the importance of, among others, discipline as well as the damage theft and corruption causes.

The Chief of the South African Air Force and the Chief Executive Officer of Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) signed a Master Cooperation Agreement on 19 July 2023 as both entities were desirous to develop a meaningful cooperation with an integrated approach that will ensure that harmonization of safe, expeditious and efficient ATM solutions and associated services are fully explored.

In August, we reported that the SAAF is to deploy Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) to civilian airports around South Africa due to a staff shortage at State-owned ATNS. A new ATNS/SAAF Joint HR Strategy was in the final stages of being accepted. The Joint Strategy aims to establish a collaborative arrangement between ATNS and the SAAF for the deployment of SAAF ATC Officers at various ATNS ATSUs (Air Traffic Services Units). The arrangement aimed to address staffing constraints currently faced by ATNS while simultaneously providing valuable traffic exposure and experience to SAAF ATC personnel.

Early August also saw the first SAAF C-130BZ Hercules (serial 409) leave AFB Waterkloof for a lengthy flight to Marshall Aerospace in the United Kingdom for maintenance and upgrades. The Department of Defence was allocated an additional ring-fenced funding of R1 billion in 2023/24 to enhance the country’s medium airlift transport capability (2023 MTEF Period) and the SAAF intends to spend this amount on upgrading and maintaining the six remaining C-130s The SAAF had nine serviceable examples but two have been written off in accidents and one has been cannibalized for spares.

It was also reported in the press that the SAAF has had to ground its Cessna 208 Caravan light transport aircraft, with age and funding cited as guilty partners. The grounding comes as no surprise, with Armscor noting at the end of a maintenance contract in December 2021 the eight-strong Caravan fleet is 40 years old and requires “a midlife upgrade to cater for obsolete avionics”.

Absque argento omnia vana.

Armscor’s seeming inability to “conclude” maintenance contracts for equipment in SA National Defence Force (SANDF) service, especially aircraft, has reached an untenable point, with questions by the opposition DA coming for Defence and Military Veterans Minster Thandi Modise.

Armscor does not have maintenance contracts in place for three of the SAAF’s aircraft types, with challenges finding a C-47TP maintainer indicating the type could be permanently grounded. The King Air, Caravan and C-47TP fleets do not have maintenance contracts in place, according to an Armscor presentation delivered to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) in mid-September.

Absque argento omnia vana.

Some positive news for those who may have noticed the lack of Gripen participation at various SAAF and SANDF events and exercises is that a few Gripen and Hawks participated in a “show of force” over the Sandton Convention Centre during the BRICS Summit in August.

A mid-year highlight was the annual gathering of surviving members of SAAF helicopter squadrons and associated support services at the SAAF Museum at Swartkop (AF MDW) to celebrate the 75th anniversary of helicopter operations by the SAAF. Operation Nagana (the Zulu word for the debilitating disease caused by the tsetse fly), the SAAF’s first foray into helicopter operations, commenced in 1948, with three Sikorsky S-51 helicopters that conducted spraying operations in Northern Zululand, against the tsetse fly. These 75 years of helicopter operations have been conducted in many diverse locations, from central Africa to the Antarctic.

Further good news came in October when it was made known that the International Test Pilots School (ITPS) in Canada is training three SAAF pilots and an engineer who joined the first course of 2023. It has been a number of years since the SAAF last sent someone to an international test pilot school and the number of accredited test pilots within the SAAF could be counted on one finger.

Implementation of austerity measures at the SAAF saw it pass – even if only slightly – a reduced flying hour target for the 2022/23 financial year. The airborne service budgeted to fly 12 000 hours in the reporting period – down by a substantial 5 100 on 2021/22 – and logged 12 059.2 hours, according to the Department of Defence (DoD) 2022/23 annual report.
By far the majority – 8 900.5 – were logged in force preparation flying with force employment hours a distant second at 2 483.6. SAAF management budgeted for a thousand hours of moving VVIPs (Very, Very Important Persons) to and from local, regional, continental and international destinations and, logged 675.1 hours. Hours flown in force preparation were close to two thousand more than planned (7 000 force preparation hours budgeted and 8 900 flown) with force employment hours 1 517 less than the 4 000 budgeted.

The continued emasculation of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was vividly brought to the fore by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise when answering a Parliamentary question. The majority of the SAAF fleet is grounded due to “a lack of spares or budget constraints to conduct the necessary repairs”. Modise’s reply also informs him unavailability of aircraft implies SAAF defence readiness is “compromised” with aircrew having to regain currency and “the lack of aircraft availability poses a challenge”. Kobus Marais, the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for her portfolio, notes in his response: “Most concerning” is that “a staggering 85% of the SAAF’s aircraft fleet is currently out of action, leaving the nation vulnerable to security threats.”

Absque argento omnia vana.

In a candid interview with the author after officiating at a Medal Parade held at Air Force Base Ysterplaat in October, Lt Gen Mbambo emphasized the far-reaching consequences and risks of insufficient financial support for the Air Force and the SANDF as a whole. For the Chief of the Air Force, the primary concern revolves around the mandate of the SAAF and its ability to fulfil its obligations effectively. These obligations include participating in peacekeeping operations, safeguarding national borders and combating illegal activities. "All of this requires soldiers, it requires equipment and those equipment and soldiers need money for them to be maintained and sustained," he said. When funds are scarce, difficult decisions must be made to manage within those constraints and unpopular choices become a necessity.

Absque argento omnia vana.

Still in October, State defence materiel agency Armscor reported that it has maintenance contracts in place for most SAAF aircraft, but most of these are only partially funded at present.

Absque argento omnia vana.

The SAAF participated in Exercise VUKUHLOME 2023, the largest SA Army divisional exercises executed since 1999 which took place at the Combat Training Centre, Lohatla in the Northern Cape. However, a Casa-212 tranport aircraft of 44 Squadron departed the runway whilst landing at Dippies Airfield (Lohatla) on the afternoon of 22 November 2023 afternoon. Whilst the crew suffered no injuries (except to ego), damage to the aircraft is still being assessed and it is not known if the aircraft can be economically repaired, given the funding available.

A flicker of hope, after the depressing October news, came in November when a Brazilian Air Force Embraer KC-390 Millenium tanker/transport aircraft landed at AFB Waterkloof on 24 November for demonstrations to the South African Air Force (SAAF) and other government departments as the SAAF investigates future replacement or augmentation of its ageing C-130BZ Hercules fleet. It is not clear how the SAAF could afford to acquire new aircraft, as much of the fleet is grounded from a lack of maintenance due to budget cuts, but one option is to jointly acquire C-390s with other government departments and for this reason various state representatives were also on board Friday’s demonstration flight. The SANDF also made use of the aircraft to transport troops to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) for the funeral of SANDF Chief Logistics, Lt Gen Xolani Ndlovu.

The year ended on a high note, when AFB Langebaanweg on the Cape West Coast celebrated a momentous occasion on 7 December with the unveiling of its military Colour.

It was also noted in a Parliamentary reply that the SAAF musters just short of 400 aircrew, with the majority of pilots flying rotorcraft, according to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise. However, many of these pilots have not accumulated much flying hours due to aircraft groundings and interruptions in maintenance contracts.

Absque argento omnia vana.

The SAAF has survived another year, but it is on life support and fast approaching terminal phase. It is only the magnificent, hard work undertaken by the men and woman at squadron level that allows the SAAF to even achieve the small levels of success it attained this past year. Those at the top have their work cut out for them. Funding will not increase by any significant amount in the near future and priorities will have to be listed, hard choices made and the cloth must be cut to fit the budget. Even if that means some career limiting conversations with the political bosses. For if the cloth is not cut voluntary, it will be cut by destiny. And it will not be pretty.

Absque argento omnia vana.

The Unofficial SAAF Website

As with the SAAF, 2023 was year of personal financial hardships for the Webmaster, but the Unofficial SAAF Website continued to provide updated and essential information on the SAAF.

Although the rise of social media has lead to slowdown in the activity of the SAAF Forum, some of the discussions have been very detailed and thorough. The modelling section has seen some fantastic and detailed builds, with many important colour scheme and equipment variations being researched.

I was also grateful for the opportunity to be interviewed on various TV and radio news programs, as well as being quoted in various local and international newspapers and media channels.

The design and architecture of the current website, originally designed by supporter Brett Reid, is now 15 years old and the backend is showing its’ age, with various editing and admin aspects depreciating gradually, making running the site more onerous. Brett has once again kindly offered to replicate the site on a more modern and secure framework. Thanks Brett!
The Unofficial SAAF Website as well as the SAAF Forum has accomplished much in the past year. This has only been possible with your support, encouragement and input. I would like to thank all of you and hope you will support our continuing efforts in the coming year.

As we await 2023 and the challenges it brings, I wish you and your families a great year-end break, a safe holiday and a prosperous New Year. For those who celebrate, I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas (or hope you had a happy Chanukah).

Stay safe and looking forward to interacting with all of you in 2024.

Absque argento omnia vana

Best wishes

Dean Wingrin
Webmaster: The Unofficial South African Air Force Website

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PostPosted: 19 Dec 2023, 14:20 
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A comprehensive, well written review, of events pertaining to the SAAF during 2023. :smt023
Quote:
The SAAF has survived another year, but it is on life support and fast approaching terminal phase.

From the once well equipped, very well trained, and combat experienced Air Force, to a shadow of its former glory. The reasons for this demise are well known and has been discussed ad nauseum . . . here, elsewhere and everywhere . . .

Technological advances, the fast paced development of ultra sophisticated software and related computing capabilities, to all and any aviation related platforms, from fast jets to unmanned aircraft to rudimentary drones, are much in evidence. Whether the SAAF can keep pace, whether the SAAF even contemplates keeping pace, is a moot point. If the RSA struggles to maintain an Air Force, then more of the same applies to all sub-Saharan African 'Air Forces'.

In short, there may come a time when whether the SAAF can deploy Gripens (defensive air power) or not, is immaterial, because no-one in sub-Saharan Africa can deploy offensive air power. Military adventures (UN mandated deployments) on the continent, disaster relief outside SA borders, all of that becomes things of the past - why -
Quote:
Absque argento omnia vana

Thank you Dean, for your continued and continuing hosting of this website and forum. Best Wishes too, to you and yours over the festive season, and into 2024.

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PostPosted: 19 Dec 2023, 14:29 
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Another splendid year end message, thank-you Dean. With the rich history of SAAF it is sad to see how the Air force is falling apart at this tempo. One can only hope and pray that things turn for the better. Let’s see what next year’s elections bring to the table. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you and all the forum members as well.

Rickus

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PostPosted: 19 Dec 2023, 16:53 
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Thanks Tally-ho and Wingman :smt023

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PostPosted: 20 Dec 2023, 07:57 
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Thank you Dean for the year end report, it's scary to see the state that the SAAF and the SANDF as a whole is in.

With the elections in the new year 2024 the SAAF will be required again to assist in transporting ballot papers to and from various voting stations, hopefully the powers that be realise in time what the implications are in this respect.

I personally don't think anything will happen and it's a very sad situation.

Especially now with the current shipping problem with the Houti's in Yemen more and more ships will be rounding the Cape and monitoring of this traffic will need to be executed.

Trusting that Dean and family had a happy Chanukah and a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all.

Geoff


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PostPosted: 31 Dec 2023, 11:57 
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Hi,

Firstly, thank you for the very comprehensive update on the current status of the SAAF. Sadly, I think it will only be missed when it is no longer there, as evidenced by so many aspects of South Africa.

I also noted the comment on the costs of running the Forum, and sure there has likely been a lot of debate around this. If I may, would suggest having a look at other Forum / s, such as "the British Medal Forum" (BMF), https://britishmedalforum.com/viewforum.php?f=1&sid=bb8361fdc80517e4515658d4d622875e to see how they run the funding aspect.
In short,
1. the moderators work out what the cost will be for the coming year,
2. they then raise a thread / post where the Forum members can place donations on a completely voluntary basis and for an amount that they are comfortable with.
3. Once the required level of funding is reached the thread is closed to prevent any additional funding beyond the est required funds

Image

4. The opportunity for interested Forum members has become quite competitive, as everyone knows more or less when it will come and then there is a deluge of submissions. Usually achieving the required about in less than 24 hrs. I think that it is driven by:
a. the Forum members wanting to make a contribution, and so help ensure the Forum continues, and maybe, just maybe.......
b. the fact that those whose sponsorship gets in, is acknowledged as a Sponsor (i.e. contributing member to sustain :D ) as shown in the example here:

Image


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PostPosted: 31 Dec 2023, 15:08 
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Thanks Geoff and gavhistory.

gavhistory, that's a great idea, will definitely look into that. :smt023

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