Aerospace Forum: How South Africa integrates air power in foreign and security policy

South Africa’s Air Force head, Lt General Carlo Gagiano briefed Aerospace Forum Sweden on the roles, capabilities and budgetary restraints of the South African Air Force.

The SAAF has many roles, both within the country, the wider Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Africa as a whole. A unique mission was supporting a visit by President Zuma to Libya for negotiations in May 2011. A C-130 transported the presidential entourage, including Special Forces to Tripoli and then flew on to Malta.

“For the first time that I can remember, if ever, that we have sort of touched NATO and we have no command and control systems whatever to deal with operational issues with NATO, so this was pretty much a mobile phone call to a command post to allow the C-130 to fly in [Libyan air space] at certain arranged times and fly back and pick up the equipment.”

Image: South Africa’s Air Force head, Lt General Carlo Gagiano

South Africa’s Air Force head, Lt General Carlo Gagiano.

Prevention of wildlife poaching is an important SAAF mission. Nearly 450 rhinoceros were killed in the last year said LtGen Gagiano.

“We must spread the word that the powder of the rhino horn does nothing for you, it’s a myth.” As an aside, the SAAF actually owns 14 rhino on one of their bombing ranges “but we keep them well away from the bombing,” the General added.

The SAAF’s Hawk advanced jet trainers and JAS 39 C/D Gripens are based together in the north of the country.

“We have Gripenized the Hawk cockpit so that the transition is almost seamless,” said LGen Gagiano.

Both types, as well as PC-7 trainers and AW109 helicopters were used in the air policing role during the 2010 Football World Cup. Because many of the games were at night, the Gripen’s FLIR pod was extensively used and using the JAS 39D two-seat Gripens allowed the workload between the radar and FLIR to be shared between the cockpits.

“We achieved much, much more with this team than we would have with a single-seat aircraft,” said Gagliano.

The Gripens Flew 259 hours in support of the World Cup without losing a single mission. The last four aircraft for South Africa will be delivered this year and the SAAF will soon integrate the Thales Joint Reconnaissance Pod on the aircraft.

Defence is only one call on the finances of a developing nation and the SAAF has so far got by optimizing its resources as much as possible, but such efforts can be nullified by a rise in fuel prices for example.

 “We are at the limits now…” says Gagiano as important budget decisions are imminent “…and optimization is not going to do the trick any more.”