Index of Report:
Assessment | Regional
Air Force Strengths | Chain of Command
| Organisation | Role
and Deployment | Search
and rescue and evacuation | Regional
intervention and assistance | Regional
training | UN Contributions | Deployment
| Operational Art and
Tactical Doctrine | Training | Training
Areas | Air Force Bases
AIR FORCE, SOUTH AFRICA
Date Posted: 19 March 2001
Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment - Southern Africa - 09
SOUTH AFRICA - AIR FORCE
AIR FORCE SUMMARY
9,500 (uniformed, full time)
450 (part-time reserves)
C-130B/F, C-47TP, C-212, CN-235M-100
The South African Air Force (SAAF) lacks any real long-range interdiction
capability. It is questionable as to whether the replacement of the Cheetah
by the BAE Systems/Saab Gripen aircraft will change this situation.
The Impala Mk II is no longer regarded as having any real combat utility
in the face of modern air defences. It will be retained in a lead-in role
until it is replaced by BAe Hawk 100 aircraft, deliveries of which are
due to start in 2005.
A major gap in the SAAF's capability is the lack of any long-range maritime
patrol aircraft. This will become even more of a problem as South Africa
takes on more significant regional roles, one of which is going to be
the protection of regional marine assets and coastal shipping. The need
was to be partly addressed with the entry into service from 1998 of the
new full-scale maritime version of the C-47TP, which was to have a surface
search radar and TV/FLIR, GPS navigation and a sono-buoy capability. This
project has, however, been cancelled, as the ending of the arms embargo
made nonsense of spending limited funds on a 1940s era aircraft.
The Pilatus PC-7 Mk 2, which is now fully in service, will serve the SAAF
effectively in the primary trainer role for the next few decades.
In October 1999, 16 Squadron was reactivated as the official unit for
the CSH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter. This unit is based at Bloemspruit
air force base.
Continuing funding shortfalls have meant that the SAAF had to restrict
some of its missions in 2000. A number of flood relief flights in Mozambique
were curtailed due to pilot shortages and the use of C-130B/F transport
aircraft of 28 Squadron has been limited to only 800 flying hours. One
Cessna 185 was lost in Mozambique during April 2000, while on a border
patrol sortie. The five Boeing 707 electronic warfare and tanker aircraft,
which had provided the SAAF with a force multiplier, have been grounded
due in part to electronic and documentation problems.
Regional Air Force Strengths
The SAAF remains the most effective air force south of the Sahara, despite
some loss of capability to defence cuts since 1989. It is a very experienced
and highly trained air force that takes a thoroughly practical approach
to operations and training. The result has been a solid record of successful
operations and a very low loss rate. Its approach is well illustrated
by its view of several larger air forces and their training as being `hopelessly
Chain of Command
The air force's command structure has been reorganised to match the hand-over
of operational control to Joint Operations and the hand-over of other
functions to the Secretariat.
The new structure consists of two divisions - an Air Office and an Air
Command. The Air Office is responsible for the strategic operation of
the air force and for policy, planning and control. The Air Command is
the executive arm of the service, having responsibility for the preparation
of combat-ready air forces.
- Chief of the Air Force: Lieutenant General Roelf Boekes
- Inspector General: Brigadier General G Gagiano
- Sergeant-Major of the Air Force: WO1 C P M Nortje
- Chief Director, Air Policy and Plans: vacant
- Deputy Chief of the Air Force and GOC Air Command: Major General J
- Chief Director, Force Development and Support: Major General P R Müller
- Chief Director, Force Preparation: Brigadier General F J Labuschange
- Chairperson, Integration Committee: Brigadier General T A Ntsibande
- Chairperson, Transformation Committee: Brigadier General R Salojee
- Base OC Representative: Brigadier General N L J Ngema
- Chairperson EO, AA Committee: Brigadier General Z A Temba
- AFO Representative on Transformation Policy: Brigadier General M K
- PSSO to CAF and Secretary: Colonel C J Delport
- Chairperson Air Force Gender Forum: Colonel S van der Bank
- Senior Finance Officer: F Koegelenberg
The air force is a highly centralised organisation, enabling it to employ
its relatively small number of aircraft most efficiently in this large
theatre. Air force headquarters is in Pretoria, and incorporates the main
Air Force Command Post (AFCP). The AFCP handles the overall air picture
collation by means of a real-time Air Picture and Command System (APACS)
that allows direct control of aircraft on the ground and in flight. The
APACS system is being extended to allow air force operations to be controlled
from any of its command posts.
The southern air force command post, co-located with the navy's maritime
co-ordination centre at Silvermine outside Cape Town, has responsibility
for all maritime air operations. It also has control over a forward air
command post at Port Elizabeth, which will normally control operations
off the southeast coast. There are also forward air command posts (FACP)
at Durban, Pietersburg, Nelspruit, Johannesburg and Potchefstroom, which
co-ordinate air support for the regional army commands, as well as at
the army battle school at Lohatla. Other FACPs are to be established in
the remaining provinces.
Mobile air operations teams (MAOT) are deployed as necessary for independent
air force operations outside South Africa, and with army forces when deployed
for training or operations. Air defence is co-ordinated through two air
space control sector headquarters: the Bushveld Air Space Control Sector
which is co-located with the Command Post in Pretoria, and the Lowveld
Air Space Control Sector at Air Force Base Hoedspruit in Mpumalanga. Both
sectors have fixed and mobile radar systems, which automatically feed
data to their own command posts and to the Command Post.
The future approved force design and major equipment needs for the air
force are detailed below, although when funding or how much is to be allocated
in presently unknown. Current major equipment needs are:
A replacement for the Mirage F1AZ and Cheetah C and D aircraft. At the
DEXSA exhibition held in Pretoria, South Africa, in late 1998 it was announced
that BAE Systems/Saab will supply the SAAF with 28 Gripen multi-role fighters
in a R10.8 billion contract. Negotiations are underway as to how many
two-seat models will be included in the package.
A replacement for the Alouette III (60 aircraft). The SAAF will buy 30
Agusta A119 light utility helicopters for R2.2 billion.
A replacement for the Impala jet trainer (Project LIFT (Lead-In Fighter
Trainer), 24 aircraft). Also at the DEXSA exhibition it was announced
that Bae will supply 24 Hawk 100 LIFT aircraft in a contract worth R4.7
billion. All final assembly and flight-testing will take place in South
Longer term requirements include:
- 8 medium transports (50 seat) (possibly CN-235)
- 8 medium-light transports (25 seat) (possibly CASA 212)
- 12 light transports (10 seat) (probably acquire additional King Airs)
- 16 light reconnaissance aircraft (Cessan 185 replacement) (probably
re-role the Caravans and acquire four additional aircraft)
- 6 long-range maritime patrol aircraft
- 10 short-range maritime patrol aircraft (probably the same airframe
as the light transport)
- 1 `inter-continental range' presidential aircraft
- 1 `ministerial' VIP aircraft for operations in Africa
- 2 `departmental' VIP aircraft for operations in Southern Africa
For further details of the ongoing reorganisation of the SANDF, the effect
of which will be felt in the air force, see the Armed Forces section,
Role and Deployment
The SAAF is mandated by the government to provide all of the state's air
requirements except those provided by the police air wing and the specialised
services provided by the department of transport (airfield calibration
flights, etc). The SAAF is, thus, the sole operator of military aircraft
in South Africa and has responsibility for the full range of air operations.
The primary mission in time of war is to ensure a favourable air situation
over the territory and coastal waters of South Africa and over any area
in which South African ground forces are to be deployed. Given the size
of the African theatre, the terrain, and the very low force densities
that characterise operations in the region, the air force is seen as a
key element in any operation. Its inherent flexibility enables it to intervene
anywhere in an operational area at short notice, providing interdiction,
ground attack, reconnaissance, trooping and supply support as needed.
In time of peace the air force provides a range of services for other
government departments, ranging from deploying helicopters and light aircraft
to support army and police elements carrying out border protection and
internal security operations, to flying government officials around Africa.
The growing regional role of South Africa in Southern Africa is also going
to bring new and expanding regional roles for the air force. These will
fall mainly on the transport and helicopter forces and to a lesser extent
on the maritime patrol force. The former will be asked to take on a greater
role in disaster and emergency relief operations, and to transport and
support forces involved in regional peace support operations. The latter
will be expected to assist other countries of the region with the protection
of their marine resources and in search and rescue work.
Search and rescue and
South Africa already has responsibility for maritime search and rescue
for much of the South Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans, delegated
by the ICAO and the IMO. This task is handled by the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination
Centre (MRCC) and the South African Search and Rescue organisation (SASAR).
The MRCC is co-located with the Southern Air Force Command Post at Silvermine.
The capabilities of this organisation, and of the SAAF and South African
Navy (SAN), have been thoroughly demonstrated by several rescue operations.
One operation saw all passengers and crew rescued from the cruise ship
Oceanos when she sank in very heavy weather off the east coast of South
Africa in 1991. An orbiting C-160 served as an on-site command and co-ordination
post, C-47s searched for passengers and lifeboats that might have drifted
away from the scene, Alouette IIIs searched along the coast, and Pumas
lifted off survivors and put a team of divers on the ship to assist the
survivors and search for any trapped below.
More recently, a SAAF Boeing 707 evacuated 100 South African and other
civilians from Kinshasa on 15 August 1998. The SAAF then deployed two
Boeing 707s and a C-130 to evacuate a 616-man Tanzanian training team
from Kamina in the DRC. The Tanzanian government decided to withdraw the
team because of the deteriorating security situation but lacked the necessary
airlift capability. A joint SAAF/army advance party was deployed to Kamina
and a liaison team to Dar es Salaam, and the troops and their equipment
were airlifted out on 23 and 24 August.
The Standing Aviation Sub-Committee of the Inter-State Defence and Security
Committee has proposed extending the present SASAR rescue region to include
the waters off Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The SAAF has also played a role in South Africa's armed intervention in
Lesotho. Air support for the troops forming part of Operation `Boleas'
will vary according to requirements but may include between four and six
Oryx helicopters for trooping and casualty evacuation missions, between
four and six Alouette III gunships, an Alouette III for command and liaison
tasks, a Cessna Caravan light transport, a `Skyshout' aircraft and a Seeker
In December 1999 and again in February 2000, the SAAF was deployed to
Mozambique. During the December 1999 national elections the SAAF provided
aircraft to help collect ballot boxes from remote areas. Two months later,
during early 2000, heavy flooding in southern Mozambique prompted the
SAAF into deploying six Oryx helicopters, one CASA and one Cessna to help
disaster relief operations as far north as Beira.
In March 2001 South Africa again help the Mozambique authorities with
flood disaster relief efforts. President Mbeki authorised the use of SAAF
aircraft on temporary deployment to Beira, Mozambique. Eight helicopters
(Oryx and Agusta), two heavy cargo aircraft (Hercules), and a light transport
aircraft (CASA212) were authorised for the operation. In Mozambique they
joined two helicopters funded by British charities to move flood victims
and supply food and other aid materials.
The air force is also set to take on a growing training role in the region.
It has long trained personnel for Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland. In 1996
it presented a first flying safety course for officers from nine African
air forces, and it will continue to present such courses in South Africa
and in other countries of the region. Angola and Zambia have also expressed
interest in flying and technical training in South Africa, and Zimbabwe
has undergone training already.
The remaining operational elements of the air force are deployed as follows:
- 2 Squadron with Cheetah C (air defence and attack) and Cheetah D (operational
conversion unit, OCU) aircraft based at AFB Louis Trichardt in Northern
- 8 Squadron with Impala Mk II (light attack) at AFB Bloemspruit in
the Free State; The Impalas are being phased out.
- 10 Squadron with Seeker unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
- 15 Squadron with Oryx and BK-117 utility transport helicopters at
- 16 Squadron with the CSH-2 Rooivalk in the attack role af AFB Bloemspruit.
- 17 Squadron with Oryx and Alouette III helicopters (utility transport)
at AFB Waterkloof.
- 19 Squadron with Oryx and Alouette III helicopters (utility transport)
at AFB Louis Trichardt.
- 21 Squadron with Falcon 50, Falcon 900 and Citation aircraft (VIP
transport) at AFB Waterkloof, outside Pretoria. The squadron no longer
operates the HS-125, all of which have been put up for disposal.
- 22 Squadron with Oryx and Alouette IIIs (utility transport) at AFB
Ysterplaat at Cape Town.
- 28 Squadron with C-130 Hercules aircraft (transport) at AFB Waterkloof.
- 35 Squadron with C-47TP 00C aircraft (transport and maritime patrol)
at Cape Town Airport.
- 41 Squadron with Cessna Caravan I, King Air 200/300 and PC-12 aircraft
(communications) at AFB Waterkloof.
- 44 Squadron with C-212 and CN-235 transports and Cessna 185 twin conversion
trainers at AFB Waterkloof.
- 60 Squadron with Boeing 707 at AFB Waterkloof (tanker, transport,
electronic intelligence, signals intelligence and airborne early warning).
The Test Flight and Development Centre flies various aircraft, including
Islanders, from Bredasdorp on trials and communications missions.
Nine volunteer air squadrons, which fly liaison and utility missions
using civil aircraft owned by the members of the squadrons.
The Mirage F1AZ squadron formerly based at AFB Hoedspruit has now been
The SAAF has participated in UN operations in Angola and Mozambique, providing
both fixed-wing and helicopter transport capability during the run-up
to the election in the former, and during the actual election in the latter
and Tactical Doctrine
The air force retains command of its aircraft at all times. When they
are employed in support of the other services, this is done in co-ordination
with their operational commanders, and that is handled by the relevant
FACP or MAOT. These will normally form a planning cell with the staff
of the formation being supported.
The preferred tactic in the air superiority role is to execute offensive
counter-air operations, to make the most efficient use of the available
fighters. When this approach is not politically permissible or militarily
practicable, the fighters will fly Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions if
necessary, or otherwise be held at a state of readiness on the ground,
to scramble when needed.
The emphasis is on the use of smart systems and smart weapons to make
the most of the small fighter force. Targets will whenever possible be
engaged by flying stand-off profiles and using smart stand-off weapons
against high-value point targets, or long toss attacks with pre-fragmented
bombs against area targets. The pre-fragmented bombs are held in both
standard and boosted form, and with different ball sizes for soft or semi-hard
targets. The boosted bombs give stand-off ranges of around 14 km, depending
on the attack profile. Direct close air support will only be given in
critical situations or where the opposing force has no effective air defence
This doctrine was proven during the last operations in Angola, when Mirage
F1AZs and Buccaneers were able to fly all assigned missions with minimal
losses, despite MiG-23s flying combat air patrols for the opposing forces
under control of radars covering the entire area of operations and despite
ground-based air defence systems that included SA-6, SA-8, SA-9, SA-13
and manportable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), as well as 23 mm and 57
mm guns, including the ZSU-23-4 `Shilka' system. The air strikes inflicted
major losses on the opposing ground forces and were instrumental in breaking
their resistance on several occasions. Most of these strikes were flown
using long-toss profiles. Buccaneers also flew several precision strikes
against the bridge at Cuito Cuinavale, which they hit with a still-classified
locally developed stand-off weapon. Only one Mirage was lost to a SAM;
another was damaged in an air-to-air clash with a MiG-23 and then seriously
damaged in a rough landing. One Bosbok spotter was also lost to a SAM.
Helicopters are expected to provide the closest possible support for the
ground forces, be it by Alouette III gunships or by Oryx in the trooping
role. The SAAF developed a body of tactics for such operations over some
15 years of operations in the north of Namibia and southern Angola, where
it flew extensively with no losses to manportable SAMs and ZU-23-2s, and
only limited losses to lighter weapons. Helicopters will make use of helicopter
administrative areas (HAAs) to refuel and rearm between sorties. Such
HAAs will be established very far forward, or even behind the opposing
ground forces if the situation suggests this. A new doctrine will be developed
for the employment of the Rooivalk. This may involve a rethink of the
traditional South African approach which shies away from close air support
missions, preferring to leave such tasks to the army's artillery. Transport
aircraft are also expected to provide support very far forward, limited
only by their vulnerability.
The SAAF makes use of the following training bases:
Air Force Gymnasium, Pretoria: junior leader training and some basic
School for Logistics Training, Pretoria: technical and logistics training
of all ranks.
Central Flying School (CFS), Langebaanweg: pilot ground school and ab
initio flying training on the Astra and training of flying instructors.
80 Air Navigation School (ANS), D F Malan Airport; the squadron has no
aircraft of its own but `borrows' aircraft from other units. It flies
C-47TP aircraft for basic navigation training and Caravan I aircraft for
tactical navigation training.
85 Central Flying School, AFB Hoedspruit: jet and combat flying training
on the Impala Mk I and Impala Mk II.
87 Helicopter Flying School, AFB Bloemspruit: helicopter flying training
on Alouette III and mountain flying training on all the types in service.
Airspace Control School, AFB Waterkloof: training of air and fighter controllers
and related personnel.
Air Force College: management and staff courses for junior and middle
86 Multiengine Flying School has been decommissioned. The C-212s, the
single CN-235 and the multiengine flying training role have passed to
Selected junior officers attend the Military Academy at Saldanha Bay for
three years to read for the B.Mil degree offered by the University of
Stellenbosch. Some junior officers are selected to study engineering at
civilian universities after initial service in the SAAF as pilots or as
technical officers. Selected middle-ranking officers attend the staff
courses of the other services. Some middle-ranking and senior officers
are also selected to study for advanced degrees and diplomas (such as
the MBA) at civilian universities. Selected senior officers attend the
Joint Staff Course of the Defence College in Pretoria.
There are two main air-to-air training areas, off the west coast near
Langebaan northwest of Cape Town, and off Durban. Both are promulgated
as necessary. The respective home bases for them are the CFS at Langebaanweg
and 15th Squadron at Durban. Air-to-ground training is conducted at the
Roodewal range, with aircraft flying out of AFB Hoedspruit, and at the
De Wet Bomb Range near Bloemfontein, with the aircraft flying out of AFB
Bloemspruit. Live air-to-ground attacks are also flown as part of co-operation
training with the army at the Army Battle School near Postmasburg in the
Northern Cape. The SAAF also uses the Army's Vastrap range in the Northern
Cape and the Hammanskraal range in Gauteng. Flying training is conducted
in the area around all air bases, and particularly around the flying schools
at CFS Langebaanweg, AFB Bloemspruit and AFB Hoedspruit.
Air Force Bases
The SAAF operates from the following bases:
AFB Bloemspruit at Bloemfontein
AFB Hoedspruit in Mpumalanga (former Eastern Transvaal)
CFS Langebaanweg (northwest of Cape Town);
AFB Louis Trichardt in the Northern Province;
AFB Swartkop outside Pretoria;
AFB Waterkloof outside Pretoria;
AFB Ysterplaat at Cape Town;
The SAAF also operates aircraft from the following two air stations which
share major airports:
D F Malan (Cape Town Airport)
The SAAF maintains no garrisons.
7.12.13 Inventory: Fixed-Wing
Type Role Quantity In Service
Cheetah C Multi-Role Fighter 38 36
Cheetah D Combat Trainer 16 13(1)
Impala Mk II Close Air Support 100 24(2)
Boeing 707 Tanker/Transport/ELINT/AEW 5 4(3)
C-130B Hercules Transport 9 9
C-130F Hercules Transport 3 3(6)
C-47TP Transport/Maritime Patrol 39(4) 15
CN-235 Medium Transport 1 1
C-212 Light Transport 4 4
King Air 200C Communications 5 3
King Air 300 Communications 1 1
Cessna 185A Communications 24 7
Cessna 185E Communications 9 5
Cessna 550 Citation II Communications 1 1(5)
Cessna 551 Citation II/SP
Communications 1 1
Falcon 900 Communications 1 1(5)
Falcon 50 Communications 2 2
Cessna 208 Caravan I Utility 12 11
BN-2A/B Islander Utility 2 1
Utility 1 1
PC-12 Utility 1 1
Impala Mk I Armed Trainer 151 24(7)
PC-7 Mk II 'Astra' Trainer 60 58
1. Primarily tasked with training but do have secondary air defence/attack
combat role. Another 13 Cheetah E aircraft are in storage.
2. A further 26 are in storage.
3. One of the original aircraft has been put up for disposal.
4. 12 were offered for sale in early 1998.
5. Operated in civilian markings.
6. All stored, two being used for spares.
7. Additional aircraft stored pending disposal.
Type Role Quantity In Service
AH-2A Rooivalk Attack Helicopter 12 8(1)
Oryx (Puma) Utility 51 48
Oryx (Puma) Elint/Jammer 2 2
SE 3160 Alouette III Utility 72 22
SA 316B Alouette III Utility 47 30
BK-117A Utility/ Search and Rescue 10 10
1. Remainder under delivery in 2001.
Inventory: Air Defence Systems
Type Role Quantity In Service
Crotale Low-Altitude SAM Acquisition Units 7 7
Low-Altitude SAM Launchers 14 14
Only elements of one battery are being kept operational to train crews,
assist with fighter and helicopter pilot tactical training, and to assist
with the development of the new SAM system. The remaining systems are
© 2001 Jane's Information Group