Budget cuts across the SANDF means the Air Force is unable to fly, placing pilots at risk of losing specific qualifications, while money is being taken from training budgets elsewhere, to pay for operations and deployments.
The SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) budget cuts have sent the SA Air Force (SAAF) into a tailspin, with experts warning of its imminent crash as its ageing aircraft gather dust and crew lose qualifications due to lack of flying time.
“SAAF faces a serious risk of losing combat abilities. At the current rate, SAAF will not be able to afford to renew its maintenance contract for the Gripen and Hawk,” according to Darren Olivier, defence expert and director at African Defence Review. “It is a bad situation unless something is done, they are going to lose their capabilities for good.”
Last week, the SAAF announced the grounding of the Silver Falcons based at Air Force Base Langebaanweg, saying this was in accordance with the amended regulations on disaster management to cancel SAAF events until further notice.
But this has been directly linked to the budgetary constraints, which the SANDF has confirmed had had an impact on training and other capabilities.
According to Olivier, consistent budget cuts has meant the Air Force was funded for less than half of the flying hours that it had in 2010.
Budgetary cuts were a double-edged sword in that it impacted on the rate of aircraft maintenance and acquisition of spare parts, he said.
“You have to slow down the rate of servicing, which means you have fewer aircraft available. More aircraft sit on the ground waiting for servicing, or waiting for spare parts, or waiting for issues to be resolved.”
Olivier said the direct impact of this was that the aircrew risked losing their qualifications for certain skills sets, which would result in them having to fly with an instructor to re-qualify.
“Night flying is a qualification and you must fly a certain number of nights every month to maintain that qualification. If you do not, you lose that and must then re-qualify.”
Olivier said this didn’t necessarily mean the SAAF crew was unsafe but they may lose currency and qualifications without consistent training.
While the SANDF would receive a further R2.88 billion, it has to spend R4 billion on Covid-19 activities, he said.
Defence expert HelmoedRomer Heitman said the entire SANDF was crumbling because of budget cuts. There was not even enough ammunition for training, let alone enough equipment for
border and maritime patrols.
“It is all going to come to a nasty, grinding, sticky halt in the not-too-distant future… that is why they have 15 companies deployed instead of the 22 at the border,” he said.
“They also do not have enough equipment; they need more vehicles to do border surveillance; more helicopters need to be operational, or we cannot do that search-and-rescue operation that we have committed to. If anything happens, we would not be able to deal with it,” he said.
“We have more work given to the SANDF but no money. That work has to be done without available resources as no new money is coming in. We end up taking from training to give to operations, which is really robbing Paul to pay Peter,” Dlamini said.
According to Defenceweb, the deployment of 1 300 soldiers to fight gang violence in the Western Cape in 2019 cost about R20 million a month, with indications that the current deployment will cost around R40 million a month for nearly 3 000 soldiers.