South African Air Force Still in Dire Need of Maritime Patrol/Medium Transport Aircraft

by Nicole Auger, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

The South African Air Force’s 35 Squadron, based at Air Force Base Ysterplaat in Cape Town, flies some of the oldest Douglas C-47TP Dakotas in the world.

The SAAF provides no official figures on the size of its C-47TP fleet, but Forecast International’s inventory shows that there are currently eight or nine operational C-47s.  However, having entered service in 1943, the aircraft were only expected to remain in service until 2015 at the latest.  Furthermore, at least one and possibly two aircraft are permanently assigned to anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel.  Approximately five C-47s are available to the SAAF at any given time.

Although the aircraft received new Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engines between 1989 and 1994, hence the designation C-47TP, further major upgrades have not been carried out on the aircraft since. It appears that the SAAF will fly these aircraft as long as it can, as the planes are among the cheapest aircraft to operate.

For a number of years, the Air Force has been considering several options for replacing the C-47s.  Initially, the C-295 surfaced as a favored replacement.  Up to 14 aircraft could be bought for cargo and maritime missions, with a portion of the fleet being equipped for maritime surveillance operations.  A mix of C-295s and C-235s has also been discussed.

In addition, the United States has proposed various options that would involve the C-17 Globemaster and the C-130J Super Hercules.  The C-130Js in particular would not only boost the SAAF’s airlift capabilities, but could also be equipped for maritime surveillance and patrol duties. More recently, the Saab 340MSA and the L3 Spyder variant of the Beechcraft 350ER King Air have been considered as well.

Cost has become a critical issue, however, and the SAAF appears to be leaning toward more affordable options.  In October 2010, SAAF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Carlo Gagiano said that buying 14 larger maritime patrol aircraft could be cost-prohibitive, and suggested that the Air Force would consider a two-tier approach consisting of a low-cost coastal surveillance aircraft and a long-range maritime patrol aircraft capable of conducting surface warfare and anti-submarine operations.

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