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No new SAAF aircraft acquisition until budget changes

Date: 29 October 2019

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New aircraft will only be acquired for the South African Air Force (SAAF) when budget allocations from National Treasury change.

That is the gist of an answer by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to a Parliamentary question.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for the portfolio, Kobus Marais, asked when Mapisa-Nqakula’s department (Department of Defence) will begin the acquisition process for urgently needed aircraft to “replace essential maritime patrol and reconnaissance capabilities at 35 Squadron, essential cargo, logistic and personnel C-130 carriers at 28 Squadron in support of the various operations and essential helicopter capabilities, particularly of Oryx and Rooivalk.”

He also wanted to know from the Minister that, if there were no plans to replace and/or upgrade aircraft, what steps she intends to take to provide critically essential services, especially those currently provided by the C-130BZ and C-47TP aircraft.

The Ministerial response to the acquisition part of the Parliamentary question is an abrupt “no” with slightly more detail following in two sentences.

“The acquisition of main equipment to replace the aging fleet in the SAAF is inextricably linked to the budget allocation. There is currently no funding on the SCAMP (Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan) to initiate the process for the acquisition process or to procure the replacement of the ageing fleet.”

AFB Waterkloof is home to 28 Squadron, operating the SAAF “fleet” of C-130BZs with, it is believed currently three airworthy. Six years ago the squadron held a commemorative parade to mark the 50th anniversary of C-130BZ service in the SAAF at the same time marking its 70th year of existence.

28 is a dedicated airlift and transport squadron that has lived up to its motto “Portamus” (We Carry) across the continent and locally supporting government and the security forces.

35 Squadron at AFB Ysterplaat is the sole SAAF maritime operations unit flying twin-engined C-47TP aircraft that are more than 60 years old. Following the crash of aircraft number 6840 in the Drakensberg in December 2012, Mapisa-Nqakula reportedly said it was not good when “our people fly in aircraft that are so old”.

There were plans to acquire new maritime surveillance aircraft under Project Saucepan, which later became projects Metsie and Kiepie (for maritime surveillance and light transport), but budget cuts and the upcoming closure of the Special Defence Account, saw these acquisitions off the cards and no replacement of C-212 and C-47TP aircraft. The cancellation of the A400M Atlas acquisition in 2009 saw no alternative plan to replace the ageing C-130s, which can fly to 2020. To fly to 2030, the aircraft’s engines will need serious attention by 2022, a retired SAAF officer said some years ago.

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