Unit Emblem of LASS


Lowveld Airspace Control Sector

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 History and Core Business of LASS


Lowveld Airspace Control Sector (LASS)

Please allow me to take a few minutes of your time to take you on a little trip through the history of LASS and what we as a Sector Control Centre (SCC) in the SA Air Force stand for.

It all started with the development of the airplane and the need of every nation for air superiority. As far back as WWI, when pilots still shot off their propellers and threw bombs from the cockpit, the need arose for early warning of approaching aircraft to warn the inhabitants of the area to either protect themselves or hide from danger. This was primarily done by troops deployed on hilltops and other lookout points where they had to visibly lookout for enemy aircraft with binoculars and listening out for the sound of the rumbling piston engines and relaying the information back to the relevant people by radios. At the time this technique served well enough as airplanes moved relatively slow, and there was enough time to put own aircraft in the air to intercept the approaching bandits (enemy aircraft). As time progressed and technology developed, faster and better aircraft were invented, and by WWII the development of the RADAR (RAdio Detection And Range) system started. Britain and the United States were the main developers, but South Africa also had a finger in the pie, as well as various other countries. Radars, although still primitive, proved itself quite worthy and as a necessity for early warning and in-flight control at the end of WWII.

In the 1950’s, the planning and development of Mariepskop Radar Station started. Project NATSEC (National Security) was launched to establish a chain of radar stations along the borders of the then Transvaal in order to protect the Witwatersrand area from possible aerial attack emanating from neighbouring states. These radars were to ensure optimum coverage, and thus a communication network was essential for the link with the fighter base at Waterkloof as well as with each other. Subsequently, in 1954, Capt Cockbain and Cpl Franke ventured through the forest in order to reach the mountaintop of Mariepskop to assess the site for radio communication.

In 1955 1 Mobile Construction Flight started construction of the road to Mariepskop, which was deemed impossible by both civilian and provincial contractors. WO1 Rohrbeck was in charge of this unit and spent a year extending the forest road by five kilometres to the proposed domestic site, so as to use it as a base of operations. The basic road, to carry up equipment with which to establish the planned radio repeater site, was finally completed in February 1957. On 21 March 1957, the first radar radiation tests from Mariepskop took place and after some (possibly radical) adjustments were made, proved so successful that the decision was taken to go ahead with plans to establish a radar station there.

Construction of 1 Air Defence Unit

Construction of 1 Air Defence Unit during the early 1960’s

In late 1961, the Rohrbeck road was widened to accommodate the large equipment and servicing vehicles needed in the operation of an Air Defence Satellite Station. The contract for the radar equipment was awarded to the British Marconi Company, and so 1 Satellite Radar Station of the South African Air Force grew in reality. 1 Air Defence Unit began operating on 1 January 1964 and Mariepskop was officially named 1 Satellite Radar Station. The station became operational on 18 November 1965 and was declared officially open on the same day by the then Prime Minister Dr H.F. Verwoerd.

After some years of successful operating, the need arose for the upgrading of the unit, and this coincided with the need for another name and so the Lowveld Air Space Control Sector (LASS) was subsequently opened by Gen D.J. Earp, SSA, SD, SM. During August 1989 the unit moved to a new complex at AFB Hoedspruit and Mariepskop became a Reporting Post for the Sector Control Centre (SCC). Lt Gen J.P.B. van Loggerenberg, SSAS, SD, officially opened the new Complex at AFB Hoedspruit on 30 November 1990. It was also during the same year that LASS celebrated its 6th anniversary, and Mariepskop its 25th.

Construction of LASS

Construction of LASS at AFB Hoedspruit.

During 2001 the need for a Central Airspace Management Unit (CAMU) was identified which would co-ordinate seamless management of the available airspace. LASS established 1AMU (1 Airspace Management Unit), which is the body responsible for coordinating all military flying in the old FAR71 & 72 regions as well as civilian flying rights in the Lowveld.

LASS has received 2 upgrades in operating systems, currently being the APDS (Air Picture Display System), and continues to stand at the forefront of military Airspace Control technology in the SA Air Force.

Now that we know what initiated the need for a Sector Control Centre in the Lowveld, the question remains: "What is our significance to the SANDF, the SA Air Force in particular, and to the South African society in General?" The answer to this question is simple: "We render In-flight Command and Control services." In addition, we contribute to the local economy.

How are we going to achieve the above-mentioned tasks? Our mission to achieving these objectives is: Through our unique infrastructure, equipment and the professional conduct of our people, we are the providers of the full spectrum of Air Space Control Capabilities to all Air Space users in our Area of Operational Responsibility in support of regional development and stability.

With this mission as our vehicle, we have the vision of: Striving to be the centre for integrated Air Defence and Air Space Management excellence.

As can be seen, we focus on both Air Defence and Airspace (Air Traffic) Management. Air Defence Management is executed by the Mission Controllers. Mission Control integrates all Air Defence elements for the Air Defence of the RSA. Air Combat Maneouvres (ACM) is controlled, up to a level of 2v2 (two Fighter Aircraft versus another two Fighter Aircraft), for Force Preparation of the SA Air Force's Fighter Aircraft. Other controlled sorties include from General Flying (GF) sorties to Air-to-air refuelling (AAR). Mission Controllers exercise control over these aircraft in both the Defensive counter-air (DCA) and Offensive counter-air (OCA) roles. Mission Control can also assist in- or conduct Recovery Control. Recover Control is the recovery of any military aircraft to specific points for the purpose of returning or landing, in the safest and most expeditious manner possible. Mission Control assists in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations within our Area of Operational Responsibility (AOR).

Mission Controllers

Mission Controllers hard at work, illustrating Radar In-flight Command and Control.

Air Traffic Management is executed by the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC). ATC provides three services namely; Flight Information Service (FIS) to the whole of the Lowveld's Air Traffic outside of Controlled Airspace, Approach Control to all aircraft within Hoedspruit's Controlled Airspace, and lastly Aerodrome Control (Tower), which controls the aircraft taking off, landing and the maneouvring of aircraft on the Airport. ATC also conducts Search and Rescue (SAR) within Hoedspruit's Controlled Airspace, and assists in SAR in our Area of Operational Responsibility (AOR) in conjunction with the Air Force Command Post (AFCP) located in Pretoria. LASS also has the capability to provide a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) service to military aircraft that can assist in approaching the runway safely in bad weather, which is controlled by a qualified ATC in this aspect.

Air Traffic Controllers in tower

Air Traffic Controllers regulating safe and efficient airspace management form the tower.

Successful In-flight command and control cannot materialise without the creation of a real-time air situation picture. This air picture is created by Radar Operators, which in turn is disseminated to the AFCP for situational analysis and command decisions.

No military aircraft can fly without it being authorised. At the Flight Authorisation Cell the Radar Operators receive Airmovement Orders of military aircraft that want to fly in our AOR. The Radar Operators then take all other military aircraft movements into consideration where after they will approve the tasking if it is safe to do so. The AMU, which is co-located with the Flight Authorisation Cell, is responsible for all airspace bookings where necessary.

Radar on Mariepskop

The Radar Antenna currently situated at Mariepskop, surrounded by the all familiar mist at the peak

No system can run on its own, or is self-sustained, and therefore the technical and logistical departments are of utmost importance. The Technical support section is essential for the servicing, provision, maintenance and management of all radar and radio equipment utilised by Air Space Controllers. Without serviceable equipment we cannot fulfil our purpose and cannot reach our ideal of being a centre for integrated Air Defence and Air Space Management Excellence.

Our Intelligence Cell provides tactical intelligence information for use by all operational personnel.

At LASS we also believe in the community and strive to help wherever we can. We have made various contributions to the underprivileged community and we are proud of our Ladies forum, which is making great effort to lessen the burden of those less fortunate. We have a continuous program in place where anyone can donate old clothes, toys and non-perishable foods at LASS, which will be forwarded to the needy of our community and surrounding areas.

Community involvement

The previous Officer Commanding of LASS. Col L.J. Selepe, holding one of the underprivileged children at Bavaria crèche, where LASS has helped in the past.

Tower at AFB Hoedspruit

AFB Hoedspruit’s Tower, manned by the Air Traffic Controllers.


 Unit Emblem

Unit Emblem of LASS

  • The symbology of the official unit badge can be traced to the days when 1 SRS was situated at Mariepskop.
  • The aloe on the badge symbolises the indigenous aloes growing on Mariepskop.
  • The white rings are symbolic of the radar range rings as generated on the old generation radar systems, the basis of which are still utilised to provide services which LASS is responsible for.
  • The blue background symbolises the colour of the SAAF and the airspace we control and manage.
  • The whole badge symbolises Mariepskop keeping watch over the total area of control in the LASS area of operational responsibility (AOR).

Even though LASS is no longer situated at Mariepskop, the badge still identifies LASS on its unit colours, as Mariepskop Reporting Post still performs a pivotal role in the in-flight command and control functions of the unit, using both radar and communication facilities.

Well, we have come to the end of our little walk through the existence of LASS and what we as a proud and professional Unit stand for. I hope that you have found it informative as well as somewhat interesting.


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