CAF interview with Helmut Römer Heitman

General Gagiano faces two key challenges, a major re-equipment programme and the pressing need to accelerate and essentially complete the transformation of the SAAF.

The re-equipment programme will see four new aircraft types enter service by 2010: Gripen, Hawk, A109 and Lynx, in addition to the much delayed Rooivalk. The SAAF is also to begin upgrading its Oryx fleet.

General Gagiano will pay particular attention to the Gripen, as it presents the greatest challenge. “The Gripen will bring a totally different capability. We have never been exposed to datalinks, and need to prepare ourselves technically and intellectually”. Partly with this in mind, the phase-out of the Cheetah C will be delayed by two years, to 2010, to allow development of new tactical, operational and support concepts.

That will also allow time to finalise weapons selection. The Gripen was to initially use the Cheetah’s weapons, but General Gagiano feels that “it would not make good business sense” to spend on integrating them with the Gripen, given that they will also need upgrading and “would not fly on the Gripen all that long”. Instead, the SAAF “will take a calculated risk and phase them out with the Cheetah”, and acquire a new generation of weapons for the Gripen.

The close-range missile will be Denel Aerospace Systems’ A-Darter, planned to be “ready by 2009”, which is “tight but doable”. The “cut-off” for this decision will be in 2007. The beyond visual range missile is still to be selected. The SAAF will retain its “very effective pre-fragmented bombs” and has “an operational requirement for a new generation laser guided bomb”. The SAAF must also, however, plan to deal with “the problem of the weather conditions in the likely operational area, which would impact less severely on a GPS-guided bomb”.

Given tight funding, the weapons inventory will be kept “as small as possible”, and General Gagiano is inclined towards “strap-on systems” as the optimal solution for most SAAF needs. A small number of longer-range weapons may also be acquired. The present Vinten ‘wet film’ reconnaissance pods will be kept in service for a time, but will be “replaced with a digital system as soon as possible”.

The Gripen project as such is meanwhile slightly ahead of schedule, with the first of the SAAF aircraft now set to fly before the end of this year, and the first aircraft to be delivered and to have completed the operational test and evaluation phase by 2008. At the same time, “the build up of new pilots for the Gripen is already under way and is progressing well, making maximum use of the Impala jet trainers in their last year of service”.

General Gagiano is also basically satisfied with the progress of the other projects. The Hawk and the A-109 have suffered delays, but he believes them to be “recoverable”. One change is that the A-109 will not be used for helicopter training. The SAAF will instead look to a “cheaper civilian light helicopter” for that role.

The Rooivalk programme has been much delayed, mainly as a result of defence cuts that starved it of funding. The government is now keen to see it in operational service as soon as possible, viewing it as a key asset given South Africa’s growing regional security role, and funding has been voted for this purpose. That and “the huge, really good effort” by Denel Aerospace Systems should see the Rooivalk finally be brought into operational service, although General Gagiano is not confident that it can happen “quite as quickly” as the cabinet would like.

The SAAF also faces criticism that it has not moved fast enough to “transform” itself. The focus of most of that criticism has been that it is not yet sufficiently racially representative.

“Representivity” has been a problem for several reasons: The SAAF started out as a mainly white organisation; the small ‘homeland’ armies had very small air wings; the ANC and the PAC had very few people with relevant training or experience, and now the SAAF is in competition with commerce and industry for precisely those young africans that it wants for flight and technical training. There is also “a real problem in the middle rank groups”, where service experience is essential.

The SAAF was able to “make great strides at the major-general level, our new recent intakes are fully representative, and we are specifically recruiting additional african personnel” to grow a body of young officers and NCOs from among whom “we can fast-track outstanding individuals into the middle rank groups”. There has also been “real progress in the flight training environment”. The present courses, graduating by 2007, are 53% ‘african’, 27% white, 13% ‘coloured’ and 7% ‘indian’. The SAAF has also “taken ownership” of previously centralised recruiting, and General Gagiano is “confident that we will do much better”.

Courtesy of:

Helmoed Römer Heitman
Janes Defence Weekly
April 2005

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