This year the South African Air Force (SAAF) held its annual Air Capability Demonstration (ACD) at the Roodewal Weapons Range in Makhado, Limpopo Province one day before the opening of AAD 2016. Scheduling the demonstration just before AAD makes sense as a large number of foreign delegations that are already in the country can be invited to attend what has become the SAAF's flagship event.
General Malinga during his opening address at Roodewal
In his opening address Major General Gerald Malinga, Deputy Chief of the Air Force paid tribute to the soldiers that are deployed on peace keeping missions in the African continent. General Malinga reminded the assembled guests that the SAAF is deployed to these conflict areas in the continent to provide support for the SANDF.
SAAF Rooivalk in UN colours
Rooivlak firing its rockets
It is common knowledge that the SAAF operates on drastically reduced budgets. Like all other expenditures the ACD forms part of the overall budget. Planning for each demonstration takes approximately two months and moving all the assets is a costly exercise. A single Mk81 general purpose bomb cosy more than R30,000 and a single Rooivalk 70mm rocket in excess of R13,000 each. The SAAF therefore needs to gets the most from the exercise and it does.
The annual ACD is therefore not a just demonstration of the SAAF's air power capability but also serves as a joint training exercise with the South African Military Health Service and the Special Forces as well as the SANDF's Joint Senior Command Staff Course and the Defence Studies Programme.
SAAF personnel, invited guests, VIPs and members of the media were flown from AFB Waterkloof to Polokwane and the bussed to the bombing range where the demonstration took place.
For the next 90 minutes the SAAF showed its sting. Assets deployed to Roodewal included seven Gripens, a number of Hawks, Rooivalk, Oryx and Agusta 109 helicopters as well as Cessna Caravan. Life ammunitions are used during the demonstration and as the sun set the normally peaceful bombing range resembled a war zone. Bombs were dropped from the Gripens and Hawks whilst rockets were fired from the Rooivalks whilst the ground forces repelled the attacking forces. Troops were deployed and casualties evacuated by the Oryx and Agusta helicopters.
Supper was served after the demo and on the way back to Waterkloof we had the opportunity to speak to a number of members of foreign delegates and all was impressed. One delegate, from Sweden, remarked that he has never seen a formation of seven Gripens.
Despite budget restriction the SAAF showed that it is still a force to be reckoned with.