Air force boss slams poor state of affairsDate: 4 April 2010
South Africa's air force chief has delivered a damning verdict on the country's military aircraft, raising concerns about defence capabilities.
Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano's comments in an auditor-general's report, in the possession of the Sunday Times, come amid significant budget cuts in the defence force that call into question the logic of the country's multibillion-rand arms deal.
Concerns raised in the report include:
- The budget for the Hawk squadron, used to train pilots to fly Gripen fighter jets - both Hawk and Gripen aircraft were bought in the arms deal - is only enough to keep the aircraft airborne for 2000 flying hours a year, half the optimal flying time;
- The air force cannot afford a permanent maintenance contractor for its aircraft;
- Delays of more than a year in getting some spare parts for aircraft; and
- An "insufficient number of trained pilots, instructors and ground crew to ensure a sustainable core of fighter pilots".
In addition, it has since emerged that the air force flagship squadron of 26 Swedish Gripen fighters - 11 of which have been delivered - will only be able to fly for a total 250 hours a year, enough to train one pilot to Nato standards.
Written queries to the air force went unanswered this week owing to the "long weekend", according to two officials.
Last week, the SANDF denied there were problems with the air defence system planned for the World Cup.
"The SANDF is playing an important role in support of the Fifa 2010 national safety and security plan. Air defence forms a crucial part of this national safety and security plan, and is primarily rendered by the SANDF," said spokesman Brigadier-General Marthie Visser.
The budget crisis has also affected the navy and the army. Figures presented to parliament reveal that the navy can, on average, only afford to keep each of its ships at sea for 41 days a year. This effectively means that, at any one time, the country has only one vessel to patrol 72000km² of ocean.
Yet, in the arms deal, South Africa bought four new frigates and three submarines, which will spend most of the year in port.
Gagiano's comments are the strongest indication yet that senior military personnel have doubts about the country's long-term military capability.
The situation is so bad that the Attorney-General cancelled last year's performance audit of the fighter training programme and called for urgent management intervention.
In his written assessment, Gagiano details serious maintenance issues that are hampering the air force and claims both the Hawk and Gripen systems can only be "minimally implemented".
He was particularly outspoken about the Hawk fighters, which cost R5-billion and were bought to provide pilot training for the more expensive Gripens.
Gagiano said the diminished Hawk programme meant the air force could not "adequately feed" the Gripens - which cost taxpayers between R15-billion and R20-billion.
Leon Engelbrecht of Defence Web, the specialist military news and research website, said aircraft and pilots would be at risk. "A typical Nato pilot needs 240 hours every year to stay current. If that is applied to us, then only one of our pilots would stay current."
Defence expert Richard Young, who was involved in the original arms deal procurement plan, said the air force needed to spend about R60-million a year to maintain the Gripens.
Source: Sunday Times