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Air Force Equipment Introduction

The air force operates an estimated 400 aircraft. The fleet includes Cheetah, Mirage, and Impala fighter aircraft, Cessna light reconnaissance aircraft, and Oryx and Alouette III helicopters.

In the early sixties South Africa's deteriorating security position caused the Government to take steps towards rearmanent. As part of a development programme, the SAAF's arsenal was strengthened. The first Mirage IIICS fighter aircraft arrived in South Africa in April 1963 and was displayed to the public in July that year. Canberra light bombers, Buccaneer S Mk 50 strike aircraft, Lockheed C-130B Hercules and Transall C-160Z medium transport aircraft also joined the SAAF's arsenal in the sixties. During the sixties new types of helicopters were also introduced, including the Alouette II and III light helicopters, the SA 330C Puma and SA 32IL Super Frelon medium transport helicopter as well as the Westland Wasp light anti-submarine helicopter.

The writing was on the wall, however arms embargoes became imminent and it was obvious that these were probably the last aircraft the Republic would be able to buy for some time. Replacements would have to be built locally. In 1965 a new aircraft industry in South Africa was born with the registration of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation and on 8 October 1966 the first Aermacchi MB-326, built under licence, and renamed the Impala, rolled off the assembly line.

During the eighties much attention was given to new aircraft development projects. The SAAF's new supersonic fighter aircraft, the Cheetah, was unveiled at the Atlas Aircraft Corporation on 16 July 1986. The two versions - Cheetah D2 and Cheetah E - compare favourably with the Russian MiG-23s. In the previous year South Africa's first locally manufactured attack helicopter, the prototype Alpha XHI, took its first flight. The experimental Alpha XHI was later followed by a second design, the Beta XTP-1, which was unveiled to the public on 30 April 1987. This was basically an armed version of the standard Puma helicopter.

The early nineties witnessed the final withdrawal from service of the AM-3CM Bosbok light aircraft and the old stalwart, the DC-4 Skymaster. In 1992 it was announced that the Swiss Pilatus Astra PC-7 Mk II trainer aircraft would replace the Harvard as the SAAF's new trainer aircraft. The first 60 Pilatus Astras (as they were christened by the SAAF) were delivered to the SAAF in October 1994. It was expected that 32 aircraft will be in service at CFS Langebaanweg by the end of 1995.

The air force in early 1996 began the delivery of fifty to sixty Pilatus PC-7 basic training aircraft from Switzerland and planned to purchase several locally manufactured Rooivalk combat helicopters. The air force also upgraded its Cheetah fighter aircraft and is developing plans to produce short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles for this purpose.

The Cheetah C fighter fleet was officially handed over to the operational and logistic sections of the Air Force and became fully operational during 1997. The 60th and last Pilatus PC7 MKII Astra was delivered to Central Flying School at Langebaanweg in the Western Cape during 1997. The first Pupil Pilots' Course was successfully completed on the aircraft. Full Instrument Flight Rules qualification on the aircraft was completed in FY 97/98. A contract for the upgrading of the SAAF's 12 Lockheed Hercules C-130 medium transport aircraft was signed with Marshals Aerospace in the United Kingdom during December 1996. The upgrade will enable the use of the aircraft for the next 20 years. The production phase of the contract will be carried out by DENEL Aviation in Kempton Park. The aircraft were delivered to the SAAF over the period July 1999 to June 2002.

All 51 Oryx helicopters have been delivered to the SAAF and are in operational use. Two helicopters were modified for use in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic. They were delivered to the SAAF in FY 97/98. The Rooivalk EDM aircraft was virtually completed during 1997 and was put through a comprehensive test program during FY 97/98.

South Africa's transition to a representative democracy required a reconsideration of the country's defence situation and a redefinition of the role that South Africa's defence force, the SANDF (South African National Defence Force), should have in southern Africa. The view taken was one based on joint un-derstanding resulting in a White Paper on the defence of South Africa, which was echoed in the subsequent defence review at the end of the 1990s. The defence review described the optimum composition of South Africa's defence forces including an air force that would see its fleet of trainer and fighter aircraft reduced by more than 75 per cent by the year 2011. The challenge faced by South Africa's government was to ensure that much-needed funds were made available for social needs -- education, training and housing -- while at the same time making it possible for the defence forces to meet their con-stitutional and regional obligations.

The reductions in the DoD budget caused all new programs, including the replacement for the Impala aircraft, to be rescheduled into the future or cancelled. As part of a combined contract valued at US$2.2bn, South Africa has ordered 24 BAE SYSTEMS Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainers and 28 Gripen multi-role/swing-role fighter aircraft for the South African Air Force. These are currently in production and will be delivered from 2005 through until 2012, resulting in a 75% reduction to the SAAF's overall jet trainer and fighter fleet as they replace the 1960s vintage Impala and Mirage/Cheetah aircraft.

A small fleet of multi-role aircraft could take over the duties that had previously been covered by a combination of the Mirage F1AZ, F1CZ and Cheetah while a small number of two-seat aircraft could replace the Cheetah D for type conversion. A formal bidding process was initiated in 1997 by the Defence Department and its procurement organisation Armscor. A number of aircraft including the Gripen, Eurofighter, MiG-29 and the EADS AT-2000 (Mako) concept aircraft appeared to meet the requirements. When evaluating the bids, consideration was also given to the extent and quality of the industrial collaboration packages that South Africa could negotiate in connection with this strategic procurement.

South Africa chose a combined contract comprising 24 BAE SYSTEMS Hawk trainers and 28 Saab-BAE SYSTEMS Gripen. The Hawk aircraft's avionics will be modified so that they are 'Gripen-like' to facilitate the conversion training of pilots. The first deliveries of Hawk aircraft will commence in 2004. These will be followed by nine two-seat Gripens and 19 single-seat Gripen aircraft between 2007 and 2012.

In December 1999, South Africa placed orders for 28 Gripen aircraft (nine dual seat and 19 single-seat versions) incorporating several new features which are standard items for the Gripen Export baseline version. Among these are the in-flight refuelling system, On-board Oxygen Generator (OBOGS) - which enables the pilots to continue operating on extended missions - a new cockpit climate control system, NATO-interoperable stores pylons, colour cockpit displays a new communications suite and also instruments calibrated in Imperial units.

The first South African Gripen will undertake flight trials in Sweden in 2005, after which the aircraft will undergo a further flight test programme in South Africa during 2006 where the South African-specific equipment will be proven and certified. This first aircraft is on track to be delivered into service with the South African Air Force in 2007.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) will use its Gripens in conjunction with 24 new Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainers. Together they will replace the SAAF's ageing fleet of Impala (Aermacchi MB326) and Mirage/Cheetah fighters. This represents a significant technological transformation in the standard of aircraft system being operated by the SAAF. At the same time, the new technology embodied in Gripen and Hawk, enable the SAAF to reduce its existing jet trainer and fighter fleet by 75 percent.

This downsizing is in line with policy formulated after the first democratic election in 1994 which calls for a smaller, more affordable, but technologically sophisticated defence capability to protect the country's airspace and to ensure regional stability through South Africa?s participation in peace-support operations.

Commissioning of the production line coincided with Saab's announcement that it had placed new orders on South Africa's aerospace and defence corporation, Denel, for the series production of Gripen sub-assemblies and components. These latest contracts cover the manufacture and supply of Gripen Rear Fuselage Sections, Main Landing Gear fuselage Units and NATO-interoperable stores pylons for the entire Gripen program. Also included are contracts for the supply of detailed tooling required for the fulfilment of the component orders.

These components will be incorporated into aircraft being built for the Swedish Air Force and international export customers, including South Africa and Hungary. The contracts stem directly from Saab's Industrial Participation obligations linked to South Africa's purchase of Gripen aircraft under the Strategic Defence Procurement program. During the subsequent in-service period, that will last for several decades, the support and upgrading activities associated with modern fighter aircraft will ensure a steady flow of job-opportunities for industries in South Africa and Sweden.

In February 2003, AgustaWestland announced that the final assembly of the first Agusta A109 Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) airframe for the South African Air Force commenced at the Denel Aviation facilities. Denel Aviation, an aerospace divison of Denel (Pty) Ltd, has been granted a licence to manufacture 25 of the 30 A109 aircraft on order from the South African Air Force. In addition to licence manufacturing of the A109 LUH, the Denel Group also reached an agreement with AgustaWestland to produce and support the A109 Power and A119 Koala range of helicopters. The first result of this agreement has been the Denel Group involvement in the airframe manufacture of 20 A109 LUH aircraft ordered by the Swedish Air Force.

By 2010 the most urgent South African Air Force need is to replace its old Lockheed Martin C-130s, ideally with wide-body transports that can accommodate helicopters and combat vehicles and use short airstrips. Its Project Continent order for eight Airbus Military A400Ms was cancelled in 2009 due to programme delays, but might be reinstated (probably with an initial order for four).

In the longer term, an alternative may be provided by the Antonov An-70. Earlier in the year, Antonov made the newly formed, black-owned Pamodzi Aviation its sole marketing and MRO agent for the whole of Africa. This new company will promote the An-70 alongside the commercial An-148/158 series and provide maintenance for any Antonov aircraft. It is expected to partner with Denel Aviation, and later manufacture parts. The United States is thought to have offered the air force a package of four C-17s and eight C-130Js. Lockheed Martin is arguing that the stretched C-130J-30 provides outstanding load flexibility, and that this can be combined with the tanker capability of the KC-130J and (with roll-on/roll-off modules) the maritime surveillance of the HH-130J.

The future of the air force squadron of Denel Rooivalk attack helicopters (Project Imposer) is assured for several years, but it remains to be seen whether a mid-life upgrade will be funded. There may be a case for a low-cost multi-role aircraft such as the Eurocopter Fennec, as photographed by the author at the exhibition with the ATE-developed Saws (Stand-Alone Weapon System). Towards the lower end of the fixed-wing logistics scale, the EADS-Casa C-212 and CN-235 need replacing, as does the Douglas C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft. Project Saucepan combines the air force's light transport and MPA needs. One candidate present was the 31.8-tonne Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan. BAE Systems has promoted the 42-ton BAe 146M.

The last of 30 Agusta A109 light utility helicopters were delivered in 2011/12. A retrofit program was executed to correct deficiencies identified during operational testing and evaluation. The ninth and last dual-seat SAAB Gripen advanced light fighter and the first two of 17 single seat SAAB Gripen advanced light fighters were also delivered. Training of the first group of aircrew and relevant ground crew was completed. The Phase One handover of the 24 BAE Systems Hawk lead-in fighter trainer to the SAAF was concluded. The development of the A-Darter infra-red air-to-air missile was continued as a successful joint venture with the Brazilian Air Force.

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