The South Africa Department of Defence was allocated an additional ring-fenced funding of R1 billion in 2023/24 to strengthen the country’s medium airlift transport capability (2023 MTEF Period).
The South Africa Department of Defence has recently been allocated an additional ringfenced funding of R1 billion in 2023/24 to strengthen the country’s medium airlift transport capability. This is an important step towards the government’s commitment to the Hercules fleet and its capability to transport personnel and equipment quickly and effectively.
This additional funding will enable the Hercules fleet to be equipped with the latest technology and operational capabilities, including upgraded avionics, improved engine performance and increased payload capacity. The Hercules fleet will also benefit from increased maintenance and operational support personnel, allowing the aircraft to remain in service longer and with greater reliability.
A contract for the maintenance of these transport aircraft is running from 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2025. Out of the seven airframes, only five C-130 aircraft in the fleet are airworthy, one is operational, two are undergoing maintenance and repair, and two are awaiting major overhaul.
The SAAF will carry out a Life-Cycle Extention of the C-130BZ Hercules fleet. This will cover six of the seven airframes available. These being 401, 402, 405, 406, 408, 409.
For year’s, the SANDF has been grappling with severe budget cuts which have been negatively impacting it’s operational efficiency.
According to defence expert Dean Wingrin, the schedule maintenance over the next six years, to FY2028/29, will see varying numbers of airframes operational at any one time.
It will cost an estimated R3bn to cover the six aircraft in the six year plan. Treasury has only allocated R1bn. This means that only two aircraft (405 and 409) are currently funded. As an example, 409 can fly a further 180 hours before it requires a major service & upgrade.
In 2010, Aircraft 404 suffered a nose gear collapse whilst performing a touch and go.
Early three years ago, in January, SAAF’s C-130BZ (aircraft 403) overran the runway and hit a culvert a short distance from the runway edge, causing extensive damage to the aircraft’s wing and fuselage in Goma airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The aircraft was returning from a logistical mission in support of the South African contingent deployed to the DRC.
Subsequently, the SAAF dismantled the C-130BZ Hercules aircraft, and the salvaged usable parts was tested and distributed around the remaining SAAF C-130BZ fleet as needed.
Another South African C-130 Hercules (aircraft 405) suffered a similar fate in April, when it sustained a nose wheel collapse at AFB Waterkloof.
The C-130BZ Hercules (405) was preparing for a test-flight before the nose wheel unintentionally retracted when the number 2 engine was started. It was slated to replace the now stricken aircraft in Goma.
Eleven months ago, the South African military looked at options to upgrade the rest of it’s aging C-130BZ Hercules transporters which are plagued by availability issues.
Upgrading the Hercules fleet will come at a cost of R1.6 billion, to save valuable forex and local technical skills, the SAAF will upgrade and return to service six aircraft currently in 28 Squadron’s inventory. This would enable the C-130BZs to remain airworthy until 2040.
South Africa’s Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, explained at the time that a Required Operational Capability (ROC) is in process for the upgrade of the current C-130 fleet.
Each upgrade will take about 18 months, the first commencing in August this year. It is planned for Denel to build a second Hercules servicing bay.
However, in order to strengthen the medium airlift capacity, the US Embassy Office of Defence Co-operation (ODC) offered through a letter, a dozen Hercules C-130H models through the excess defence articles (EDA) programme to the Chief of the South African National Defence Force.
The US-donated aircraft will come at R228 million per aircraft and would be able to serve until 2028, moreso, accepting two of the donated C-130Hs will also require funding to upgrade which will cost an additional R900 million, taking the total amount required to R3.9bn.
Since there is currently only one Hercules servicing bay between the SAAF ASU and Denel. Thus, in order to service more aircraft, it must be done by an external party. In this case, it will likely be undertaken by Marshalls Aerospace in the UK.
Marshall is the same company that undertook the upgrade, including a new glass cockpit, under Project Ebb between 1996 and 2010, resulting in the C-130B redesignated to C-130BZ. Thus 405, 406 and 409 will be serviced by Marshall and not the SAAF/Denel directly.
The Chief of the SAAF Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo earlier this year made mention of the “serious issues” facing the Air Force, notably the chronic lack of funds. “This Air Force has tasted what greatness is and at the same time this Air Force has tasted what adversity is and what it is to live with limited funding.” Rebuilding capabilities is something the SAAF aims to do in order to return to its former glory and ensure it is “fully operational across different capability areas, so people have no doubt the Air Force is there.”
“The limitations are real and the constraints are real. If we can just switch to how we approach these problems and provide different solutions we can find a way going forward,” Mbambo said.