26 November 2013 by Kim Helfrich - defenceWeb
Lockheed Martin’s point man for Africa has hit South Africa with the declared mission of trying to establish exactly what the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) airlift requirements are.
Dennys Plessas, Vice President Business development Initiatives at the American aerospace company, told defenceWeb his three day visit would also allow him to put forward suggestions on the boosting of airlift capacity for the hard-pressed SAAF.
“I’m here to find out exactly what the SAAF’s needs and requirements are as far as airlift, whether it be tactical or strategic, is concerned. Both myself and Lockheed Martin are concerned a hastily taken decision in this regard can lead to problems down the line with aircraft maintenance and utilisation,” he said, regarding reports of feasibility and or project studies apparently currently underway for possible acquisition of Ilyushin Il-76s.
An indicator of the importance Lockheed Martin attaches to South Africa can be gathered from Plessas’ statement that the company is ready to engage with its single largest customer – the US Air Force – to accommodate any South African requirement for the C-130J Super Hercules.
“If needs be speedy procurement can be negotiated with the USAF.”
Earlier this year the SAAF marked the 50th year of service of the C-130BZ with AFB Waterkloof-based 28 Squadron. It was also the squadron’s 70th anniversary.
An indication of the respect the C-130J has earned among the world’s air forces was that the Indian Air Force had disposed of its Il-76s in favour of the new generation Hercules, he said. The sub-continent’s air force currently has 12 C-130Js in its fleet inventory.
“It is a true multi-role aircraft handling missions such as airlift, maritime patrol and reconnaissance, border protection as well as air-to-air refuelling and others,” Plessas said adding discussions with the current and immediate past SAAF chiefs had led him to believe aerial refuelling was high on the priority list.
“This appears to have changed and that is why I’m here – to find out what the priorities are and how the C-130J can fit those needs.”
He would not elaborate on exactly who he would be seeing during his short stay in South Africa but said the local United States Embassy was also ready to offer “every assistance” if there was a decision to go the C-130J route by the SAAF.
The SAAF’s C-130 fleet will be retired in 2020, leaving only a few years to decide on a replacement. The Air Force also needs to urgently replace its Turbo Dakota maritime surveillance aircraft, under Project Saucepan. Lockheed Martin has previously suggested its Sea Hercules and C-130XJ Expandable Super Hercules could meet this requirement, and fulfil the SAAF’s airlift needs. The C-130XJ would have a substantial amount of local content fitted to meet South African requirements.
The US Air Force brought a Super Hercules to the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in Pretoria in September last year.
During a briefing last year Plessas noted that the C-130J could provide 90% of the SAAF’s airlift capability (including cargo transport, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, medevac, search and rescue etc). It could also meet 100% of the SAAF’s maritime/border patrol requirements and 100% of its tanking needs, as the KC-130J has successfully refuelled Gripen fighters.
The SAAF’s eight C-130BZs are projected to keep flying until 2020, up from the earlier date of 2015, but the Air Force has yet to issue a request for information (RFI) or request for proposals (RFP) for replacements. Lockheed Martin pointed out that the SAAF’s Boeing 707 tankers had been retired in 2007 and that its C-47TP aircraft are 1940s vintage.