Little progress on SAAF attempts to revive reserve squadrons

Earlier this year an Air Force Reserve Force Squadron workshop was held in Thaba Tshwane as part of an overall effort to reactivate and resuscitate this component of the South African Air Force (SAAF). There has, to date, been no update from the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), on progress despite SAAF chief Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang being on record as saying he was “confident” Reserve squadrons would soon take to the air again. He told the Reserve Force Volunteer publication “everything possible, within limited resources, is being done to achieve the Ministerial priority of rejuvenating the Reserves”. The workshop at the SAAF College noted the extra air capabilities provided by Reserve Force squadrons would enable the air force to execute its mandate more effectively, efficiently and economically. What do the Reserves bring to the SAAF? Part of the answer is supplied by retired Lieutenant Colonel Chris Oosthuizen who notes Air Force Reserve pilots, flying wither their own or other private aircraft, have been tasked with transporting defence personnel as well as VIPs, more often than not from the Defence Ministry or SANDF Headquarters. The corps of Reserve pilots have also, over the years, been used for transport of light supplies, air reconnaissance, dropping of messages to ground-based units and even operating Telstar, a radio relay function between ground forces and operational headquarters. 103 Squadron, based alongside 41 Squadron artillery spotters in Potchefstroom, were on the receiving end of artillery spotting training. This particular squadron also transported prisoners and undertook photo reconnaissance taskings, showing not only versatility but also demonstrating value to the SAAF, Oosthuizen said.

The SAAF Reserve squadron concept was originally an SA Army one in the form of air commandos with the primary task of assisting with light air support functions. In 1966, with the commando squadrons two years old, control of these unit was transferred to what was at the time the SAAF’s Light Aircraft Command (LAC) under the then Brigadier RHD Rogers, later to become SAAF Chief. The SAAF Reserve which three years ago marked its 50th anniversary at one stage boasted nine squadrons at air force bases Bloemspruit (two), Durban, Hoedspruit, Makhado, Port Elizabeth, Waterkloof (two) and Ysterplaat.

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