Reporter: Leon Engelbrecht
No-one *1 seems to have
properly considered the consequences of last week's decision to cancel the
acquisition of eight Airbus Military A400M Loadmaster strategic transport
aircraft, says Helmoed-Romer Heitman, dean
of the SA military analysts' corps.
South Africa announced its intent to participate in the A400M programme as a
risk-sharing partner in 2004, just a year after seven European countries ordered
180 of the aircraft, ending a 20-year development process.
An order for eight, at a cost of Euro 837 million (now R9.6 billion,
then R6.5 billion) was
placed in April 2005. Deliveries were scheduled for between next year and 2012.
The 20 billion programme has since then run into a
raft of trouble. First flight of the aircraft, scheduled
for a year ago and contractually required by January 31 this year is now
expected by year-end .
Armscor CEO Sipho Thomo last month said this had escalated the cost of the SA
acquisition Project Continent from R17 billion to R47 billion. Airbus Military
flatly denied the figures, saying the 837
million price remained the only agreed amount between the parties *2.
The news caused a political and media
firestorm that last Wednesday resulted in Cabinet
cancelling the purchase.
Cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko and defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu last week
said the SA Air Force would now
re-evaluate its transport requirement and
issue a new tender accordingly.
"We have as one of our priorities the acquisition of strategic military air
transport capability, Sisulu told the Joint Standing Committee on Defence last
We have terminated the contract with Airbus but we've not terminated our quest
to ensure we have the necessary capabilities. That is very clear."
Airbus and its parent EADS are still negotiating with the European buyers and
Malaysia for a new purchase price and delivery schedule, meaning no new unit or
package price for the A400M is publicly available. A source close to EADS has
told defenceWeb the SA Department
of Defence had budgeted R12 billion for the aircraft on the Strategic Capital
Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP). A second industrial
source, not in the aviation industry but otherwise well-connected previously
gave defenceWeb the same figure. As SCAMP is a classified document this
could not be confirmed.
Heitman adds that the numbers confusion is doing no-one any good. First Thomo
says R 47 billion and cannot explain it; then the cabinet spokesman says R40
billion; then the official statement says R30 billion.
"I am still waiting for someone to explain how it got from the original Euro 837
million to R17 billion (some of that is logistic support and some is currency
fluctuation) and then to R30 billion.
I do not believe that the A400M will be more expensive than the C-17. So eight
should not cost more than double what Australia paid for its C-17s i.e. R 24
The cabinet spokesman says that we cannot afford to place this burden on the
taxpayer in this financial crisis. But the money would have been expended over a
period of several years, most of it long after this crisis is a bad but
increasingly vague memory", Heitman says.
Inside a SAAF C130
It has been widely reported the aircraft would have replaced the Lockheed
Martin C130BZ medium transport acquired from January 1963. Eight, upgraded by
Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge in the UK and Denel Aviation between December
1996 and about March 2008 as part of Project Ebb, are currently flying with 28
Squadron from a re-opened AFB Waterkloof in Pretoria. They are due to retire in
The A400M aircraft were to have been assigned to 60 Squadron that operated the
Boeing 707 in a strategic transport, aerial refuelling and electronic warfare
role up to July 2007. The A400M would also have allowed the SAAF to reduce its
reliance had it chosen to do so on charter aircraft and would have given it the
ability to extract peacekeepers and equipment from conflict zones in short-order
if required. Charter flights are typically not available for hot extraction
evacuation missions as these are considered highly dangerous.
A SAAF Oryx in UN colours. The manequin gives an idea of size.
Even if they could stage from a friendly nearby state, the C130 is unsuited
for the equipment evacuation role as the width and height of its cargo bay is
too small for most SA armoured vehicles as well as the Denel M1 Oryx medium
utility helicopter. Fitting the latter in the C130 requires the removal of the
gearbox, which Heitman says demands a second aircraft to transport the gantry.
The removal of one Oryx thus requires two aircraft and several man-hours in
which to do the work.
Reassembly takes 24 hours instead of 4 hours. That gap of 20 hours will kill
someone one day not just the time, but the warning time, Heitman says.
A Cessna C208, Casa C212 and Douglas C47TP in formation over Roodewal bombing
range near Makhado, March 2008
The SAAF is currently mulling the acquisition of about 13 dual-role maritime
patrol and surveillance aircraft with a transport capability under
Project Saucepan to replace
the Douglas C47TP Dakota serving with 35 Squadron and due to retire in 2016 as
well as the EADS Casa 212 and 235 serving with 41 Squadron. It has also been
suggested they will replace the C130 but that was before cancelling the A400M.
Heitman says SA now needs to decide
whether or not we accept our regional security responsibilities *3.
"I believe it in our own self interest to do so: we need massive fixed capital
investment to expand our economy to accommodate the unemployed. We are not going
to attract that amount of investment if
our neighborhood is unraveling *4, he says.
Not everyone agrees with this. Arms deal
gadfly *5 and CCII CE
Dr Richard Young questions
the notion that SA has a regional responsibility, saying the SANDF's mandate
flows from the Constitution and "as far as I know the Constitution does not
prescribe an obligation on the SANDF to perform regional peacekeeping".
"Every defence force and every country cut their coats according to their cloth.
Also, peacekeeping, like charity, begin at home. "
Heitman continues that if SA is to continue our engagement in Africa, we will
need to expand it to a level that matches our economic position on the
continent. That will demand adequate airlift, including the ability to:
- a. Transport large and heavy MRAP (mine resistant, armour/ambush
protected) type vehicles (roadside bombs and car bombs will spread beyond
- b. Transport an Oryx without having to take off the gearbox;
- c. Transport bridging equipment and the like.
Heitman says there are only five aircraft available or becoming available that
can do that:
- a. The A400M, which we have just dumped.
- b. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which is more expensive and will not
be able to fly into some smaller airfields.
- c. The Russian Ilyushin Il-76 Candid , which went out of production in
(I believe, 1997) and is only available in reconditioned form or as an
aircraft assembled from parts manufactured in the 90s and stored under
somewhat dubious conditions.
- d. The Ukrainian Antonov An-70 which may never fly.
- e. The Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, which is too big and out of
So effectively it is the A400M, the C-17 or give up the capability and beg
Washington for airlift whenever we need it the old charter Il-76s will not be
around for ever.
In fact some of those that we have been chartering have been grounded for
airworthiness reasons, Heitman says.
"But the C17's cost. Australia paid US$1.5 billion (R11.1 billion today) for
four, and I have seen a recent USAF unit fly-away (but including some spares and
training) cost of $ 331 million (R2.449 billion today)."
The US Business Week publication last week gave the cost of the C130J as US$250
million (R1.850 billion).
Heitman says four C-17s would give SA the same basic payload as eight A400M. But
a minimum viable fleet would probably be six for about R18 billion. Plus at
least four or preferably six Lockheed Martin C-130Js, to fly into airfields that
are too small for the C-17. Alternatively, four C-17s and 10 C-130Js.
Right away we are at R23 billion or more. And the higher operating cost of the
mixed fleet of 10, 12 or more aircraft will eat up the 'savings' made cancelling
The C-130J, by the way has a unit fly-away cost of US$ 82-86 million (R606-R636
million), suggesting an overall acquisition cost of around US$160-170 million
The $ 82 million is the Royal Canadian Air Force cost over 17 aircraft (US$ 1.4
billion [R8.436 billion] for the 17); their package cost is estimated at about $
182 million (R1.346 billion) per aircraft (US$ 31 billion [R229.4 billion]
SA would have to buy 15 C130Js to obtain the same basic payload capacity as the
A400M at a price tag of no less than R19 billion, depending on logistical and
That would save money on the acquisition side but cost more on the operational
side. In addition, the C130J has the same size cargo cabin as the C130BZ and
cannot transport MRAP vehicles, helicopters or the heavier equipment required
for future missions .
A further additional cost would be converting some of these aircraft to
An alternative would be the Airbus Military A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport
aircraft at roughly R2.4 billion each. In addition to carrying 111 metric tons
of fuel, the tanker can also be used as a pure transport aircraft able to carry
up to 380 passengers or a payload of up to 45mt about 4000 nautical miles
Political and other boondoggles
Then there is the political cost, says Heitman. We have just had the
president re-commit us to peacekeeping and undertake to ensure that the Defence
Force is properly equipped (his speech in Bloemfontein on October 16 to mark ten
years of SA involvement in peacekeeping, and now we whip the airlift carpet out
from under that statement, Heitman said.
That will not be well received in Africa or elsewhere. We will be seen as all
talk and no walk. The Army is already worried about how this will affect the
ability to deploy the contingency brigade (dropping a single Parachute Battalion
Group (Para Bn Gp) requires 16 A400Ms or 24 C-130Js; dropping and air-landing a
reinforced Para Bn Gp [i.e. with some Mamba MRAPs, etc.] somewhere south of the
equator within 48 hours requires 24 C-130 equivalents).
And finally the economic/industrial cost. Not just that Denel Saab
Aerostructures may find itself on the skids and that others might be in trouble
or at least have to lay off people, Heitman insists.
What we have done is demonstrate conclusively that we are not reliable business
partners for a complex development. When the going gets tough, the South
Africans get going for the door. That does not bode well for future investment.
We could and should have negotiated on the deal, not pulled out.
University of KwaZulu-Natal professor Deane-Peter Baker adds that it is now
vital that the SANDF move forward as quickly as possible to identify and
purchase a viable alternative. Strategic lift of the kind that was to be
provided by the A400 is a critical need for the SANDF.
With acknowledgements to Leon Engelbrecht
*1 Except it was
cabinet who took the decision after a review of the contract by the ministries
of defence, finance, trade and industry, science and technology, and public
enterprises; clearly as well as by Armscor.
What more can one do than this?
Another throw away "fact" by the dean of the SA military analysts' corps.
More like the dunce of the SA military analysts' corps.
An embedded dunce nogal.
*2 If this is true then the SA Government clearly
orchestrated its exit from the contract.
The reasons :
- it doesn't have the true requirement for such a substantial and
sophisticated airlift capacity;
- it does not have the funds for the R9,6 billion acquisition cost plus
the R30 billion lifetime support cost; and
- inter alia (watch this space).
*3 Now there we go.
We first decide on the security situation, then we decide how much we can spend
to meet this.
Then we do the acquisition accordingly.
With the A400M decision, it was arse about face.
First we hastily and irregularly enter into a supply agreement.
Then we conjure up requirements based on fictitious regional responsibilities.
Then we realise we cannot afford it any way.
Then we cancel it.
*4 Sure, but let's start off in Zimbabwe.
After securing our own borders.
After securing our completely unravelled internal security situation.
After we can afford decent salaries and benefit for out own soldiers.
Before we can afford spares and proper logistic support for our own frigates and
Security, like charity, begins at home.
In any case, Zimbabwe is in our neighbourhood, most of the other places where
the SANDF is operating are not, not even close.
*4 Somalia our neighbour?
Sudan our neighbour?
DRC our neighbour?
2 800 km.
Burundi our neighbour?
2 500 km.
Chad our neighbour?
4 430 km
Ethiopia our neighbour?
4 000 km.
Eritrea our neighbour?
4 800 km.
Liberia our neighbour?
4 600 km.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Gadfly" is a term for people who upset the
status quo by posing
upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant.
The term "gadfly" (Ancient
Greek: , myops )
 was used by Plato
in the Apology
to describe Socrates'
relationship of uncomfortable goad to the
scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. The Bible also
references the gadfly in terms of political influence; The Book of Jeremiah
(46:20, Darby Bible)
states "Egypt is a very fair heifer; the gad-fly cometh, it cometh from the
north." The term has been used to describe
many politicians and social commentators.
During his defense
when on trial for his life, Socrates, according to Plato's writings, pointed out
that dissent, like the tiny
(relative to the size of a horse)
gadfly, was easy to swat,
but the cost to society of silencing
individuals who were irritating could be very high. "If
you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me,"
because his role was that of a gadfly, "to
sting people and whip them into a fury, all in
the service of truth."
In modern and local politics, gadfly is a term used to describe someone who
persistently challenges people in positions of power, the status quo or a
 The word may be uttered in a
while at the same time be accepted as a description of
honourable work or
civic duty .
Me a social gadfly be?
So be it.
I must say, Mr Engelbrecht, juxtapositioning, albeit indirectly, my name with
those Socates and Plato is a great honor, albeit undeserved.
For Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are my greatest heroes.
I will not take it in the pejorative sense.
Amelioration there has been.
But most of the Dunce Dean's theory is both voodoo economics and straw
It is clear than the RSA cannot afford G5-level airlift capability and might
possibly be able to afford a G20-level or G30 capability.
I am on record of supporting some level of cost-effective airlift capability.
The RSA has had C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transalls for over 40 years and has
done very well with them thank you very much.
The SADF deployed a composite parachute battalion at Cassinga in Operation
Reindeer on 4 May 1978. Cassinga is about 300 km from AFB Grootfontein (forward
deployment) and about 1 700 km from Pretoria and Bloemfontein (from where the
entire operation originated using citizen force paratroopers). The SADF needed
just four C-130s and four C-160s to deploy 498 paratroopers, including two
commandants, one colonel and one brigadier.
And that was using just half of the SAAF's airlift capability which then
consisted of 7 C-130s Hercules and 9 C-160 Transalls.
'n Boer maak 'n plan.
In any case, I would just love to see an SANDF parachute-deployed mission by a
fully equipped Paratroop Brigade using 16 A400Ms (or equivalent) anywhere
between the Limpopo and the equator.
As long as I wasn't there in person.
I just want to watch it in real-time using a Denel Vulture UAV as forward
observation platform, Predator will also do.
All will be forgiven, Brigadier du Plessis and Colonel Breytenbach - relatively
And the persons who caused the meat bombs not to be placed accurately on target,
thereby causing a three hour delay to the ground operation which nearly resulted
in tragedy to over 400 soldiers.
Instead by the grace of luck, skill and heroism, it resulted in the death of
several dozen Cuban soldiers - who were operating right out of region - just
about 12 000 km from home.