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 SAAF’s Flexibility, Mobility and Firepower Demonstrated at Roodewal
 By Tebogo Kekana, Ad Astra Magazine, photos by WO1 Christo Crous

The annual Air Capability Demonstration to showcase air power doctrine into practice took place on 10 September 2015 at the Roodewal Weapons Range in Limpopo province.

The Gripen, Hawks and Rooivalks maneuvered, launched rockets and bombs onto the range to display a mini war. All these to highlight the SAAF’s air capabilities and roles during peace support operations and to display its collaboration and inter-operability capabilities with other South African National Defence Force (SANDF) arms of service.

Pathfinders dropped to collect intelligence and mark targets

The annual (formerly biannual) Air Capability demonstration is designed as a training exercise for Security and Defence Studies Programme, and Senior Command and Staff Course members to see air power at the strategic and operational levels of war and to showcase how air power is applied. Roodewal is an academic bombing range, an outdoor classroom. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for the public to witness aircraft firing live weapons at close range.

The demonstration began with the insertion of Pathfinders dropped to collect intelligence and mark targets. One of the Pathfinders carried a second person under his parachute in order to demonstrate the insertion of an expert into the combat zone.

The spectators were treated to, among others, a cargo drop by a C-130 Hercules, firefighting by two Oryx helicopters, the “rescue” of a “downed” helicopter team from “enemy” territory and a simulated dogfight between a Hawk and two Gripen aircraft. A Caravan circling overhead provided live imagery of the event, even after sunset. The Caravan’s Project Koiler surveillance system is being used operationally on anti-poaching duties in the Kruger Park.

The Chief of South African Air Force (CAF), Lt Gen Zimpande Msimang, said Air Capability Demonstration was part of keeping the SAAF relevant, fast, versatile, effective and efficient in defending and protecting the Republic of South Africa. He said the SAAF has embarked on an “extensive own capability plan” to recruit, develop and retain scarce skills.

Furthermore, he noted that the Demonstrations were part of the SAAF’s mandate to maintain its capabilities and provide force levels for exercises like the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), the recent Exercise Blue Okavango in Botswana, Exercise Winter Solstice and Exercise Young Eagle. Moreover, the airborne arm of the SANDF participated in all these exercises, at the same time contributing to peacekeeping operations in the continent.

On peacekeeping operations, the CAF opined that the Rooivalk’s performance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against rebel forces had scored it the name: “The pride of the nation” and a demonstration of what is possible when the SANDF and industry work together to create “one of the best in its class” attack helicopters.

The three Rooivalks in the DRC are still being used as escorts to support aircraft on behalf of the United Nations. SAAF’s top management hinted that Roodewal is one of the few places in the world where weapons can be safely expended seven minutes after aircraft has taken off.

Major General Wiseman Mbambo noted that the demonstrations also involved other arms of services of the SANDF such as the SA Army. He said that such force preparation exercises are important as the SANDF needs to be combat ready when emergencies occur, they be related to peacekeeping, disaster relief or conflict.

The evening’s demonstration concluded with a fly-past by all the participating aircraft, with spectacular flare releases from the C-130 and Gripen.

While the day’s display cheered everyone, Brig Gen Piet Burger, Director of Helicopter Systems, said an Air Force’s height, speed and reach were consistently the dominant factors in a conflict, but the restraints on finances and human resources are a “significant if not crippling constraint on the tactical utilisation of airpower”, not just for South Africa, but for the world at large.


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