US aircraft manufacturer to help solve SA military airlift crisis

In a bid to help solve the South African National Defence Force’s critical air transportation crisis‚ a high level US military manufacturing company delegation is in the country.

The delegation‚ from aircraft firm Lockheed Martin‚ has been meeting with officials from the SANDF‚ its military acquisition company Armscor and the SA Air Force.

The air force is currently battling to maintain its heavy-lift capabilities with at least four of its eight C130 aircraft non-operational.

The aircraft are used primarily to rotate troops and equipment into and out of peacekeeping missions in Africa. Over 1‚200 troops are currently deployed in various United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan region.

Lockheed Martin is proposing that the South African government‚ through the defence department‚ acquire several of its ultra-modern C130-Js. Replacements of the air force’s current C130-BZs would however take approximately three years.

Addressing journalists and military analysts on Wednesday in Pretoria‚ Lockheed Martin’s business development initiatives vice president‚ Dennys Plessas‚ said just two of the company’s C130-Js would arrest the current decline of the air force’s heavy-lift aircraft.

“One would‚ with just two C130-Js‚ be able to perform paid missions for the UN and the African Union‚ which the air force cannot now currently properly perform with its eight C130-BZs.”

Although modernised‚ with upgraded avionics and renewed airframe parts‚ the SAAF has been battling to maintain its C130 fleet capabilities‚ which date back to 1963. It has instead‚ because of dwindling funding‚ been relying heavily on chartering heavy-lift Russian built aircraft such as Ilyushin-76s costing millions of rand.

The effects of such inoperability of the SAAF’s C130s were seen when the SANDF battled to supply ammunition and equipment to its soldiers caught up in deadly fighting in the Central African Republic during the Battle of Bangui. Fifteen South African troops were killed in the fighting.

Plessas said the C130-J could be used in a multi-disciplinary role from medical airlift‚ to heavy-lift transport and maritime surveillance.

The SAAF’s current martime surveillance is done with Dakotas dating back to 1943.

“The capabilities of the C130-J compared to that of the C130-BZ are vast. The payload is greater‚ its hourly mission operational costs nearly 40% less‚ with it being able to fly further with less fuel.

“Not only that‚ but it is also a force multiplier with it being able to be configured to an in-flight refueling role allowing it refuel fighter jets such as the SAAF’s Gripen which automatically increases that aircraft’s area of operation.”

Richard Johnston‚ Lockheed Martin’s air mobility and martime missions international business development director‚ said they had met with officials from Armscor‚ the Defence Department and the SAAF.

“The meetings have been very good‚ with a good understanding being provided on what the requirements of the SAAF and the SANDF are.

“More meetings are scheduled‚ which will hopefully allow us to understand further what is needed so that we can map the potential number of aircraft South Africa would require to address its needs should it choose the C130-J.”

Plessas said the current stumbling blocks for the air force came down to funding.

“If they embark on purchases now the defence force will benefit from multi-year buy packages.

“The current C130-BZ fleet can do some missions‚ but at what cost with the constant question being what is going to break next. The C130-J can provide solutions to at least 95% of the SANDF’s airlift problems.”

Source: TMG Digital/The Times

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