Being less dependent on the National Treasury for funding and becoming more independent and innovative are key elements of the new vision for the South African Air Force (SAAF) which it announced at Prestige Week.
SAAF Chief Lt. Gen. Wiseman Mbambo unveiled the new vision at Thursday’s high-profile evening at Waterkloof Air Force Base as part of the SAAF’s anniversary celebrations, and elaborated on it during a parade at Swartkop Air Base on Friday morning. The parade and review also saw the participation of Hawk and Rooivalk fighter jets, as well as transport and utility helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
Mbambo told guests gathered at Swartkop that the SAAF’s new vision is to project effective air and space power through innovation in the theater of operations. This, he said, requires a total shift in mindset and the growth of capabilities through innovation.
“It is clear that the SAAF of the future needs a different model of thinking in terms of training and preparing our force for the future. We can only hope to win here if we abandon the old pattern of thinking and embrace a new one,” he said.
“We have been in the air power business for some time and the rationale still holds true. However, the domain of airspace has been ignored for too long to the detriment of our national security, the country, the region and the continent. Various opportunities have been missed and our voice has remained silent on airspace issues that directly impact our core economic and security interests. Our vision is to change this status quo in the future.
SAAF sees opportunities in the area of airspace and there are many partners it can partner with in this regard.
Addressing the topic of challenges and opportunities since its founding on February 1, 1920, Mbambo said the history of SAAF holds many valuable lessons. “From its conception it has been met with adversity, and sailing through storms has been its norm. During our 102 year journey, we have seen and experienced the best and also the worst, where we have to operate under severe political, resource, capacity, etc. constraints.
“The various leaders of the Air Force, as well as the members of the Air Force, have never failed to navigate through these storms. We are here today faced with an avalanche of challenges but we are not blinded not to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of it all. The bold spirit of the Air Force cadre, the inherent nature of agility, has not faded into our fiber. However, we must have key stakeholders and partners in the next phase of our journey.”
Mbambo told the parade that “the days of being comfortable with the consumer mentality in SAAF are over. We need to move forward to introspect ourselves in terms of what we can do ourselves and what we can outsource. We must join forces with partners and administrations that will allow us to express our innovation and help relieve excessive dependence on National Treasury coffers. This requires different thinking not only within the SAAF and MoD, but beyond, so policy constraints need to be removed.
Asked about becoming more independent, Mbambo said there were things that could be turned into businesses to generate revenue for the SAAF, such as the Test Flight and Development Center at Air Force Base Overberg and the Overberg Test Range associated.
“There is a wide range of opportunities,” he said. “We can reverse the situation rather than go head to head… We must resist the temptation to limit reflection to what we see. We must raise the horizon of reflection despite the challenges we have.
During his Prestige Day speech, held on the Friday closest to the founding of the SAAF on February 1, Mbambo highlighted some of the achievements of the SAAF. He said the SAAF had flown 5,823 hours this year, including 102 hours spent on Operation Chariot for humanitarian aid. Although Operation Chariot has mainly seen disaster relief activities such as firefighting, it is helping distribute COVID-19 vaccines across South Africa.
“The Republic of South Africa is very clear about the importance of peace and stability in our region, without which there can be no economic development,” Mbambo said. “The South African Air Force is part of MONUSCO within the Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now in Mozambique as part of SAMIM [SADC Mission in Mozambique]. The men and women of the Air Force have delivered beyond expectations and so much praise has been received in terms of military expertise.
“Closer to home and at our own bases, SAAF personnel continue to excel and demonstrate their reliable skills. Recently, during the Waterkloof Air Force Base fire, our skilled firefighters at Waterkloof Air Force Base and Swartkop Air Force Base were able to extinguish the raging fire from our fuel pumps in less than 1 hour. an hour, thus avoiding possible massive damage to base infrastructure and loss of life. . It is these people in the Air Force who give us the assurance that the Air Force has a secure future. The Air Force Board decided that these members would be awarded an appropriate medal for displaying skill and bravery in preventing a potential disaster.
Prestige awards are usually given to deserving units and bases across the country during Prestige Week, but Mbambo said not all of them were able to perform well during the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19, and therefore congratulations will instead be issued to bases and units. which have managed to continue successfully during the pandemic. Mbambo said that next year hopefully prices will pick up again.
The SAAF put on an impressive aerial display during the Prestige Parade, with a massive formation of helicopters including A109, Rooivalk, BK 117 and Alouette rotorcraft. This was followed by three Hawks as well as SAAF museum aircraft, caravans and C212 transports. The Gripens were visibly absent, remaining grounded pending the signing of a new support contract. Mbambo said Armscor and Saab are currently in discussions on this and believe the matter will be resolved soon. “It will happen, but it’s only a matter of time,” Mbambo said.
Concluding his speech, Mbambo said, “If this giant bird of the sky called the South African Air Force remains shackled by limited thinking and constrained by various policies, it will not succeed. Therefore, I stand here and issue the bugle call: Free the eagle! Free the eagle!