Hopewell Radebe Home Affairs and Security Editor
NO GRIPEN or Hawk fighter jets are in long-term storage as it would be too expensive for the South African Air Force (SAAF) to bring them all back into operation‚ and the risk of corrosion was high‚ Brig-Gen John William Bayne told the Seriti commission on Tuesday.
He said the manufacturer‚ Saab‚ had advised the SAAF to use a cost-effective and efficient rotation system of maintaining the fleet rather than mothball it.
Brig-Gen Bayne acknowledged funding problems that have led to pilots flying fewer hours. But he challenged critics’ statements that the fighter jets were not being used appropriately‚ saying they had achieved the minimum hours required according to international standards for training pilots and keeping them combat-ready.
Veteran anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne said in his statement when the commission started last month that even Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had "admitted” in Parliament that Gripens had been placed in long-term storage because South Africa lacked the pilots to fly them‚ the mechanics to maintain them‚ and even the money to fuel them.
Brig-Gen Bayne said: "Funding is a reality we have to live with‚ but we have had good years to fly sufficient hours‚ such as in 2010‚ and particularly for the training purpose using the Hawks.
"Knowing the 2013-14 financial year would be very challenging‚ funding-wise‚ the SAAF did in advance prepare for and put in place austerity measures in the combat fleet (Gripens) which included fleet reductions.”
He said the SAAF’s management of the fleet was under serious financial strain. "We operate only the minimum aircraft required while the transport unit is getting the lion’s share of the (financial) pie due to the nature of their work requiring them to consistently deliver supplies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
The South African National Defence Force is part of the United Nations brigade fighting M23 rebels in eastern Congo.
Brig-Gen Bayne said the rising fuel price was a challenge facing airlines and industry around the world. The air force was not being compensated by the Treasury for this economic anomaly. © BDlive 2013