Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace company, has recently demonstrated its C-390 Millenium military transport aircraft to the South African Air Force (SAAF) and other government departments, hoping to make sales across Africa. The C-390 is a new-generation multi-mission aircraft that can perform various tasks such as air-to-air refuelling, humanitarian aid delivery, search and rescue, and aerial fire-fighting.
The demonstration took place at Air Force Base Waterkloof on Friday, November 24, 2023, where a Brazilian Air Force (FAB) KC-390 Millenium aircraft landed and was greeted by senior Department of Defence (DoD) officials, including Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise, Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) General Rudzani Maphwanya, and Chief of the SAAF Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo. The KC-390 is the tanker/transport variant of the C-390, which can also be configured for other roles such as medical evacuation, cargo and troop transport, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
According to DefenceWeb, The KC-390 took off for a demonstration flight with SANDF members and representatives from various government departments, who witnessed the aircraft’s cutting-edge capabilities and performance. The demonstration was part of a visit to South Africa that started on Thursday, November 23, 2023, when the KC-390 arrived at OR Tambo International Airport and parked there overnight.
The visit followed an April 2023 trip to Brazil by SAAF officials to discuss bringing the C-390 to South Africa for testing and demonstration, the SAAF said in a statement. In May, Modise told Parliament that her department hoped to soon publicly announce a partnership with Embraer, which would include the manufacture and repair of aircraft in South Africa.
The SAAF is interested in acquiring new transport aircraft to replace or augment its ageing C-130BZ Hercules fleet, which has been plagued by maintenance and availability issues. The SAAF spends millions of rands chartering aircraft to rotate troops and equipment from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, where it is involved in peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations. The C-130BZs are also used for domestic and regional humanitarian missions, such as delivering relief supplies, medical equipment, and personnel to areas affected by natural disasters, conflicts, and emergencies.
Maphwanya, speaking to the media, said “the SANDF is active in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the United Nations (UN), and in Mozambique with the Southern African Development Community peace mission, and will likely be involved in more UN taskings, meaning “strategic lift is needed as of yesterday.”
“We have always been struggling with an aircraft fleet that is old,” he said, pointing out the C-130 first flew in 1954. “We have this problem and are looking for a solution to address our challenges. We need to plan now – failure to plan is planning to fail.”
National Treasury has allocated R1 billion to keep the C-130BZ fleet flying, but Mbambo said older systems like the Hercules are becoming more expensive to maintain and run. “We are at a point where the systems we have, have reached their prime and it’s expensive to keep and run. There’s a clear difference in new and old systems.”
The SAAF’s Hercules fleet entered service in 1963 and comprises some of the oldest operational examples of the type globally. A lack of serviceable aircraft has forced the Air Force to hire costly charters, including Il-76s, to ferry troops and equipment across the continent.
Recently, Marshall Aerospace was awarded a contract to modify and perform extensive servicing on the South African Air Force’s (SAAF) fleet of 1960s-vintage C-130 Hercules aircraft. The contract, which is worth an undisclosed sum, includes two major modifications: the installation of an Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast – Out (ADS-B Out) system and the replacement of the existing Secondary Flight Display (SFD).
According to Embraer, the C-390 is well designed to meet these challenges, as it offers a high level of flexibility, reliability, and efficiency. The C-390 can carry up to 26 tonnes of cargo, including vehicles, helicopters, pallets, and containers, and can operate from short and unpaved runways. The C-390 can also refuel other aircraft in flight, extending its range and endurance. The C-390 has a fly-by-wire system, a modern avionics suite, and a self-protection system, enhancing its safety and survivability.
Embraer believes that the C-390 has a strong market potential in Africa, where many countries face similar operational requirements and constraints as South Africa. The company said that it has received expressions of interest from several African nations, and is confident that the C-390 can offer a competitive and cost-effective solution for their military transport needs. Embraer also said that it is committed to supporting its customers with a comprehensive package of services, training, and technology transfer, creating value and benefits for the local aerospace industry and economy.