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South Africa AFB still gripped in crisis

South Africa AFB still gripped in crisis

Budget problems in the SANDF, massive retrenchment in a specialized staff component of the SAAF and the continued electricity crisis at Air Force Base (AFB) Makhado are causing concerns, also regarding overall combat readiness.

A delay in the repair of the extensively damaged high-voltage electricity supply at AFB Makhado is adding to the severe budget problems of the SAND/SAAF.

Extremely expensive interim support measures with standby generators by the SAAF are still in force to assist 234 households at the base with an ongoing supply of electricity, at an additional monthly cost of more than R1milion.

In the meantime, a massive retrenchment of members of the Denel AMG unit, comprising some 90 specialists involved in the maintenance of the Hawks and Gripens at AFB Makhado, is on the cards. According to national news reports, in total, 523 Denel aircraft specialists are about to be retrenched countrywide after an air force contract was cancelled. The retrenchment process is reported to start early next year.

The reported impending local retrenchment of the entire unit comes in the wake of the recent announcement in Parliament that the Air Force currently does not have sufficient money to keep all 26 Gripen fighter planes in the air. At the time of going to press, answers to questions about the status of the Gripens and Hawks at AFB Makhado and the overall effect of the SANDF/SAAF’s financial situation on the combat readiness at AFB Makhado were still being awaited.

On the issue of the electricity crisis at AFB Makhado, Officer Commanding Brig Gen Schalk van Heerden confirmed upon enquiry the ongoing use of standby generators at the base. For this the average monthly expenditure for diesel alone runs into some R1,2 million, to be recovered from the standard Air Force operating budget. This does not include the costs of spares, oil and manpower hours.

“Initial saving measures to have the generators run only during peak hours proved to be damaging to electrical appliances of members, due to electrical spikes and surges during start-up procedures; thus the decision was made to have generators run on a 24-hour basis. Provision of power by this means contributed to the improvement of the dire situation in Braambos regarding the morale of members and the social welfare in preserving food supplies of families,” Van Heerden said.

The generators require standard day-to-day maintenance actions as well as scheduled maintenance services at various intervals, during which they have to be switched off for the duration of the services. This brought the total requirement of generators to 13 in order to have one or two on standby in case of unserviceability. Competencies were required by the Base's technical staff to maintain the generators, but AFB Makhado is also assisted by outside Air Force units from Pretoria with more serious unservicabilities.

“Although an independent consulting engineer was appointed by the department of public works (DPW) to establish the extent of the damage, no work has started by an appointed contractor to rectify the situation. The extent of the damaged high-voltage electrical supply will, on estimate, still be unresolved for the full duration of the December holiday season and personnel currently supporting the running and maintenance of the generators will not be able to take leave over the festive season. The high-voltage electrical supply to AFB Makhado is purely a DPW responsibility and the base is fully dependent on this department to start with an urgent repair programme,” Van Heerden said. He added that the current situation needed to be addressed as soon as possible in order to avoid further costs to the Air Force.

At the time of going to press, neither the provincial nor the national office of the DPW could shed light on questions forwarded to them about progress with regard to an urgent repair programme. National spokesperson Thami Mchunu said the questions were receiving attention and a response would be forwarded as soon as it was ready.

Source: - 17 December 2012

Photo: The South African Air Force JAS-39D Gripen Fighter Aircrafts (Photo by SAAF)


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