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 AFB Makhado hosts Air Power Capability Demonstration at Roodewal

Article: Cpl C. Swart
Photographs: FSgt K. Wilson, Sgt D. Nel, Cpl C. Swart

The air force’s open air “Air Power Lecture Room” at Roodewal was host to the first of this year’s Air Power Capability Demonstrations. Designed to provide the Executive National Security Programme (ENSP) and the SANDF War College’s members with a ‘snap-shot’ of the SANDFs joint warfare capability, this particular bi-annual demonstration was presented by Director Helicopter Systems over the period 3 to 4 May 2006.
Traditionally, the first day is used as a dress rehearsal to get this slick, fast-moving demonstration streamlined. Since live weapons are on display, safety is paramount and all participants must be able to demonstrate and deliver their payload on target and on-time. This, after all, is what joint operations are actually about; the ability to collectively deliver ordnance or whatever peace-support packages on time in the right area.
The demonstration on the 4 May 2006 was attended by the Executive National security programme (ENSP), SANDF War College and sections of the local defence industries as guests of the Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano. In his opening address, Chief of the Air Force focussed on the fact that South Africa has an obvious interest in preserving regional peace and stability in order to promote trade and development and also to avoid the spill-over effects of conflicts on the continent. He reiterated the SAAFs commitment to regional and continental support in bringing air power as a force for peace and the upliftment of the quality of life for our people.

Since the Roodewal Bombing range essentially takes on the form of an ‘open air lecture theatre’, the demonstration traditionally includes a short presentation on air power by the OC AFB Makhado. In this case, Brig Gen Des Barker argued that the employment of air power has diversified to such an extent that it is no longer only an offensive tool to be used to protect the sovereignty of a nation, but rather, that due to its flexibility, mobility and reach, has been elevated to one of the major power bases guaranteeing not only the security of nations, but a ‘force for good’ that will in all likelihood be Africa’s saving grace. With shortcomings imposed by inadequate transportation infrastructure, air power, in its role as a force for peace, would be the key element in Africa in bringing about the socio-economic recovery through the NEPAD initiatives.
Colonel Jan Mienie, the Airwing Coordinator at AFB Makhado gave a short Operational and Tactical introduction to the war game scenario prior to the demonstration and then under the commentary and control of Colonel John Bayne, the joint forces combined their efforts to demonstrate that the SANDF remains a highly competent organisation capable of employing air power either in the offensive role or the humanitarian relief and support role.
Developing the war game through the various phases of a typical battle and going out from the standpoint that diplomacy and deterrence had failed, the next course of action was then to prepare for the offensive. The airborne induction of pathfinders from a Cessna Caravan (41 Squadron, AFB Waterkloof) enabled the Special Forces to parachute into hostile territory for visual reconnaissance. With a requirement for target photography, a typical tactical reconnaissance mission flown by Cheetahs from 2 Squadron, AFB Makhado provided the operational planners with the targeting detail required to plan and conduct the operation
against the ‘bad guys’, the Red Forces.
The air battle was aptly demonstrated by 2 Squadron’s Cheetah in their low level simulation of air combat typifying the battle to sanitise the battlespace for use by own ground troops. 60 Squadron’s refuelling capability in extending the range and endurance of the Cheetahs through the use of aerial refuelling was demonstrated.
With air superiority obtained, the ‘good guys’ (Blue Forces) ground forces proceeded to bombard the enemy positions in close conjunction with 16 Squadron’s Rooivalk combat support helicopters, for the first time demonstrating not only their highly accurate rocket firing capability but also their 20mm cannon. Trooping and resupply was continuously conducted by the Orxy’s of 17 (AFB Swartkops) and 19 Squadron (AFB Hoedspruit) ably supported by the Casa 212 from 44 Squadron (AFB Waterkloof).
Offensive operations against a capable enemy cannot be conducted without suffering losses and the risk of anti-aircraft threats poses a major problem to the pilots. However, once suffering a loss, the recovery and evacuation of the ‘downed pilot’ that has typically ejected from the aircraft, becomes one of the single most important priorities during any campaign. Here, once again the joint capabilities of the air and ground forces secured the area and supported the evacuation; the Agusta 109 being used for the first time in the Combat Search and Rescue role.
With the final onslaught on the target, the collective efforts of the infantry and air power saw a joint campaign using artillery in combination with combat helicopters and ground attack fighters taking the fight to the enemy. Cheetahs from 2 Squadron not only had direct hits on the targets, the smart weapon Laser Guided Bombs that were illuminated both from the air via a cockpit laser designator and from a ground based laser designator that would typically have been taken in by special force elements. All four targets were obliterated ultimately giving victory to the ‘good guys’.
Obviously in the script for this demonstration, the ‘good guys’ always beat the ‘bad guys’, that’s the way it is in such demonstrations. But that is not the issue. The issue at stake here was the ability for the air and ground forces to integrate into a single force capable of surviving in a hostile environment and providing whatever ordnance or support is required to be delivered, on time and on target. Considered against the foregoing criteria, the demonstration was conducted professionally and with accuracy, once again demonstrating that the joint forces of the SANDF are adequately trained and prepared to participate in operations.

 

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