07 March 2014 by Kim Helfrich - defenceWeb
With approval, in principle at present from the National Treasury, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s unhappiness about “her people” flying in aircraft more than 60 years old seems set to end, if only in a few years.
During his national budget speech last month Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan approved the acquisition of new maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) in the 2015/16 fiscal term for the South African Air Force (SAAF).
The new aircraft, the number of which was not stipulated by Gordhan, will replace 35 Squadron’s C-47TPs, now well over 60 years old and the mainstay of the SAAF’s maritime patrol and surveillance capability.
Mapisa-Nqakula specifically mentioned the age of aircraft in the wake of the C-47TP crash in the Drakensberg in December 2012 which left 11 dead.
With the door now open for MSAs, two of the potential suppliers have both stressed the importance of acquisitions that can fulfil multiple missions rather than be dedicated to the single tasking of maritime surveillance.
Taking an extract from the draft Defence Review, hopefully still to be tabled during the current session of Parliament, Lockheed Martin points to the importance of airborne maritime surveillance. The Review states: “as a trading nation, with over 95% of our trade being reliant on maritime trade routes, the security of South Africa and its people is crucially dependant on the ability to trade, grow the economy, reduce poverty and provide meaningful work for South Africa’s people” and, in reference to the threat of piracy, “protection of the trade routes for merchant shipping is of vital national interest to the nation. No less than 75% of South Africa’s oil imports on which the economy depends arrives by sea from the Middle East.”
The United States aerospace and defence company’s relationship with the SAAF goes back more than 50 years, having delivered C-130 Hercules to the SAAF half a century ago. C-130BZs in service with 28 Squadron are still the SAAF’s major airlift and transport aircraft. However, with these nearing the end of their serviceable lives, Lockheed Martin maintains the new generation C-130J Super Hercules is the right replacement.
Apart from being able to do what the current SAAF BZ fleet does more efficiently, the J models are also multi-mission. This means configurations can be changed to suit specific taskings, ranging from transport of troops and equipment through to medevac, VIP transport, firefighting and maritime surveillance and patrol as well as search and rescue, an important tasking given South Africa’s responsibilities in terms of its massive economic exclusion zone.
In similar vein the C295 from the Airbus Defence and Space stable is also a true multi-mission aircraft. It offers transport in all its variants; maritime surveillance, unarmed with the option of either palletised or permanently installed mission systems; maritime patrol, armed and also with either palletised or permanently fitted mission systems as well as oil spill response and protection.
With no real prospect of growth in the defence budget, the SAAF would be getting “more bang for its buck” if aircraft acquisitions are of the multi-mission type. This would cut down on the number of platforms to be purchased and allow more different mission taskings.
These are only two of the possibilities SAAF acquisitions personnel will be investigating - many other manufacturers have also expressed interest in Project Saucepan, including RUAG, Saab, L-3, ATR and HAL. Another possibility comes from a suggestion made by retired lieutenant general Carlo Gagiano, when he headed up the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
He proposed acquiring a number of smaller twin-engined aircraft, in the King Air size, to be fitted with the requisite equipment and operated by SAAF Reserve Force pilots from airports along the country’s coastline. Given that current SAAF chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, has stated the revitalisation of the SAAF Reserve is one of his priorities, this could well add another arrow to the quiver that is maritime surveillance.
Reserve Force pilots based at say, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town, could utilise these SAAF assets, freeing up whatever other platforms are acquired for other duties.
All told, military aviation watchers maintain there are options aplenty available to the SAAF acquisitions personnel to beef up maritime surveillance and keep the seas off the country safe, essential given that South Africa is very much a maritime trading country.