South Africa's air force chief has delivered a
damning verdict on the country's military aircraft, raising
concerns about defence capabilities.
Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano's comments in an
auditor-general's report, in the possession of the Sunday
Times, come amid significant budget cuts in the defence
force that call into question the logic of the country's
multibillion-rand arms deal.
Concerns raised in the report include:
- The budget for the Hawk squadron, used to train
pilots to fly Gripen fighter jets - both Hawk and Gripen
aircraft were bought in the arms deal - is only enough
to keep the aircraft airborne for 2000 flying hours a
year, half the optimal flying time;
- The air force cannot afford a permanent maintenance
contractor for its aircraft;
- Delays of more than a year in getting some spare
parts for aircraft; and
- An "insufficient number of trained pilots,
instructors and ground crew to ensure a sustainable core
of fighter pilots".
In addition, it has since emerged that the air force
flagship squadron of 26 Swedish Gripen fighters - 11 of
which have been delivered - will only be able to fly for a
total 250 hours a year, enough to train one pilot to Nato
Written queries to the air force went unanswered this week
owing to the "long weekend", according to two officials.
Last week, the SANDF denied there were problems with the air
defence system planned for the World Cup.
"The SANDF is playing an important role in support of the
Fifa 2010 national safety and security plan. Air defence
forms a crucial part of this national safety and security
plan, and is primarily rendered by the SANDF," said
spokes-man Brigadier-General Marthie Visser.
The budget crisis has also affected the navy and the army.
Figures presented to parliament reveal that the navy can, on
average, only afford to keep each of its ships at sea for 41
days a year. This effectively means that, at any one time,
the country has only one vessel to patrol 72000km˛ of ocean.
Yet, in the arms deal, South Africa bought four new frigates
and three submarines, which will spend most of the year in
Gagiano's comments are the strongest indication yet that
senior military personnel have doubts about the country's
long-term military capability.
The situation is so bad that the Attorney-General cancelled
last year's performance audit of the fighter training
programme and called for urgent management intervention.
In his written assessment, Gagiano details serious
maintenance issues that are hampering the air force and
claims both the Hawk and Gripen systems can only be
He was particularly outspoken about the Hawk fighters, which
cost R5-billion and were bought to provide pilot training
for the more expensive Gripens.
Gagiano said the diminished Hawk programme meant the air
force could not "adequately feed" the Gripens - which cost
taxpayers between R15-billion and R20-billion.
Leon Engelbrecht of Defence Web, the specialist military
news and research website, said aircraft and pilots would be
at risk. "A typical Nato pilot needs 240 hours every year to
stay current. If that is applied to us, then only one of our
pilots would stay current."
Defence expert *1
Richard Young, who was involved in the original arms deal
procurement plan, said the
air force needed to spend about R60-million a year to
maintain the Gripens
With acknowledgements to
Bobby Jordan and Sunday Times.
*1 It's all
*2 Actually what I said was :
Some half-witted sub-editor cut the story and thereby
completely emasculated its import.
- "The SAAF needed to spend about R60-million a year
to maintain the Gripens – for just 250 flying hours a
year between all 28 of them.
- No wonder the SAAF has an operating shortfall of
just R1 221 million this financial year.
- Why is the air force buying new planes and missiles
when it still had its existing squadron of Cheetah C jet
fighters, gathering dust in air force base hangars.
- The SAAF still has nearly all of these Cheetah Cs in
its inventory, but have been grounded to make funds
available to fly the Gripens and to buy German
air-to-air missiles and Italian Mk-82 bombs."
- This country prides itself in making air-to-air
missiles and has always made a variety of both dumb and
- What gives?
- Some serious tricks were pulled in the Arms Deal to
get the equipment at all costs, only to drain the
running budgets for all time."