NEWS & ANALYSIS

SAAF struggling to maintain its aircraft - UASA

André Venter says negative consequences of lapsed Denel AMG contract starting to show

Aircraft worth billions mothballeddue to technical incapacity

Denel (AMG) retrenchments of qualified and skilled technical employees at the South African Air Force (SAAF) continues to spell disaster for the future of military aircraft capabilities.

It is becoming more evident by the day that the SAAF is experiencing serious capacity problems in respect of the servicing and maintenance of its aircraft.

With the Denel (AMG) / SAAF technical contract having been terminated at the end of March 2013, it left the SAAF without much of the required specialised technical services which have hitherto been provided by AMG.

 Despite the last minute request by UASA in February 2013 for an intervention by the Minister of Defence prior to the termination of the contract, no response has been forthcoming; hence the chapter on the issue was closed. In an attempt to salvage whatever possible to prevent a total collapse of  the SAAF's technical ability in respect of their aircraft, a proposed agreement between the SAAF and Denel Aviation was discussed which meant the retention of approximately 139 technical specialists within the SAAF environment until at least end of March 2014. In terms of this proposed agreement, the required technical skills will have to be transferred to current SAAF employees or to transfer the current AMG technical specialists to a dispensation within the Department of Defence, on or before the end of March 2014.

Now, with at least four months down the line, it seems that the proposed agreement had no real meaning, as most of the discussions between Denel and the SAAF regarding the future of technical skills and/or the transfer of skills, and many other aspects, have not materialised.

Not only did Denel do all in its power to assist with the finalisation of the proposed contract - which is apparently now with the Secretary of Defence for his approval - but is still awaiting the retrenchments costs of the affected AMG employees, being close to R170 million. At the same time, while having an in principle agreement with the SAAF regarding the invoicing and payment for the technical skills provided by Denel Aviation, Denel has been remunerating the said technical specialists, without receiving any payment, to date, from the SAAF. 

The consequences of the lapsed contract are already starting to show.

Most notably only 10 out of the 26 Grippen fighter jets (being bought as part of the Arms deal at the princely sum of R40 billion) are serviced to fly while the rest were either mothballed for long term storage or being cannibalised to keep the others in flying condition. Furthermore, the same is most probably experienced regarding aircraft serviceability at most other squadrons. No transfer of skills is taking place or will take place until such time the proposed agreement (to end March 2014) with Denel is signed.

Current Denel (AMG) employees are not allowed any courses regarding updating of their technical skills as they are being told that there is no agreement in place to authorise and or fund such.

Although it is agreed by most technical staff that a successful transfer of skills of this magnitude would be impossible within a year or two, let alone the fact that the outstanding 7 months for which this proposed agreement is set terminates by end of March 2014 (not even having been accepted and signed yet). Should the proposed agreement become a reality and the SAAF do consider transferring the technically skilled employees to a DOD dispensation, it would require a Section 197, LRA process, which could take months to finalise.

Again, it has become a sad day in the proud history of the South African Air Force, that not only aircraft, worth billions, are being mothballed due to technical incapacity but also what the future holds for the South African Air Force capabilities in the near and long term future.   

Statement issued by UASA spokesperson André Venter, July 23 2013

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