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South African Air Force (SAAF)

The South African Air Force (SAAF) included about 7,000 career active-duty troops and 3,000 active-duty volunteers who are fulfilling their national service obligations, as of 1996. About 400 air force personnel are women. In addition, about 20,000 reservists are available to be rotated into active duty as ground support personnel; reservists are also assigned to tactical air units and to units charged with safeguarding SAAF facilities.

The air force is under the overall command of the chief of the air force, a lieutenant general, who is assisted by the chief of the air force staff and the air force inspector general. The air force's headquarters organization reflects the same six-division administrative structure as the entire military establishment, with divisions handling finance, intelligence, logistics, operations, personnel, and planning.

As a result of the escalation of the Border War during the late sixties in Namibia, the SAAF was recalled to active service, mainly flying patrols and supply runs. During Operation Savannah (1975 - 1976) the SAAF deployed helicopters, light aircraft and transport in different roles in support of a South African task force in Angola. Operating from frigates. Westland Wasp helicopters evacuated South African troops north of Luanda. Hercules and Transall transport aircraft flew many supply runs while jets flew photo reconnaissance missions. During the withdrawal phase a Puma operating from the SAS President Steyn airlifted troops out of Ambrizeto.

From the late seventies onwards the SAAF participated in all subsequent military operations, and played a key role in major operations such as Reindeer (1978), Rekstok (1979), Safraan (1979), Sceptic (1980), Protea (1981), Daisy (1981), Mebos (1982), Phoenix (1983), Askari (1983 - 1984) and Egret (1985). Following Operations Moduler and Hiper (1987 - 1988), negotiations finally moved toward a peace settlement, With the withdrawal of the SAAF from Namibia at the end of 1989, yet another phase in the operational history of the SAAF drew to a close.

Dramatic changes in the global geo-political scene. South Africa's return to the international fold, its emerging regional role and the urgent need for stability and socio-economic reconstruction in the African sub-continent, will present major challenges to the SAAF. The main challenge that faces the SAAF and the SANDF as a whole to maintain the capability to carry out its constitutional tasks in a way that will best satisfy the demands of national strategy. Principal factors such as the new constitution and the transformation of forces brought changes to the SAAF's vision of its future role and deployment, namely:

  • To fulfil a primary role in providing air power in a future balanced, modern and technologically advanced National Defence Force.
  • To retain the necessary operational capability to deter potential aggressors in general and potentially aggressive air forces in particular.
  • To utilise the available Air Force resources to provide humanitarian and support services internally and in the region.
  • To provide the State with professional and cost effective operational air capabilities to support interest groups in accordance with the constitution.
  • To enjoy high esteem in defence, state, national and international circles as a result of its professionalism, preparedness and operational efficiency.
  • To be a source of pride and loyalty for all its members and all the people of South Africa.
  • To contribute to world peace and security through air operations in support of international bodies, as sanctioned by the government.

Certainly, the South African Air Force embraces the classical ten principles of war as part of its armor in combat operations and to retain air superiority. Equally important however, is the decisive role of intelligence in precise ordnance delivery, rapid force projection and the quick and effective deployment, support and recovery of our forces from combat situations. Effective air defence depends on detecting, identifying, tracking, intercepting and destroying potential air threats. This requires well-integrated airspace surveillance and command and control systems. While static systems provide much of this capability, South Africa’s deployed forces can also rely on mobile, organic air, land and sea systems for protection.

South Africa’s range of airborne assets is used to protect the country against air threats, provide fire-support to forces and protect infrastructure through interdiction and closeair support. Key air capabilities are also used in peacekeeping missions and combined security operations, providing air transport for ordered and diplomatic commitments, and air support to civil authorities and for South Africa’s international obligations.

The use of air capabilities has, in fact, become indispensable to defence support operations. The air force is often called up to assist in military evacuation and rapid deployment, strategic lift, air supply and airborne operations or civil society operations such as search and rescue, support to other security services, diplomatic interventions, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

As part of a joint defence responsibility, an integrated air defence system is critical to providing collaborative intelligence from air assets and electronic sensor data. This is where innovative engineering can best deliver real-time intelligence and threat analysis.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais wanted Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to provide some detail as regards problems facing the SAAF in keeping its fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft airworthy. The fleet includes C-47TPs which are more than 70 years old, and C-130BZs, operated by 28 Squadron for over 50 years. The troubled State-owned defence and technology conglomerate Denel is an authorised MRO (maintenance and repair organisation) for Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of the C-130, and is the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for the Oryx medium transport helicopter and South Africa’s home-grown Rooivalk combat support helicopter.

In her reply the Minister Mapisa-Nqakula indicated (SAAF) “ capabilities will gradually come to a grinding stop if State Owned Entities like Denel and the DOD are not adequately resourced to fulfil on their various mandates”. As far as flying airworthy aircraft are concerned she said “the decision to stop flying will be determined by airworthiness and aviation safety considerations”. Mapisa-Nqakula’s response came ahead of the air force’s centenary celebration, officially marked on 01 February 2020 and commemorated with a series of events culminating at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof in September 2020.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:57:07 ZULU