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    South Africa's 109 Fleet Dormant

    THE news that the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) R2bn fleet of Agusta 109 helicopters has joined the Gripen fighter jets in cold storage due to a lack of funds to fly them while VIP helicopter flights continue, has sparked outrage.

    This follows Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s admission earlier this year that few of the Gripens are actually flying, with most of them being held in long-term storage. It has also been reported that the aircraft in storage are being cannibalised for spares to keep a handful of aircraft flying.

    Thirty Agusta helicopters and 26 Gripen jet fighters were bought in 1999 as part of the arms deal, which is now being probed by a judicial commission of inquiry.

    South African Air Force Capt Lennon Atchanna with an Agusta 109E helicopter

    Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier on Wednesday demanded an explanation from Ms Mapisa-Nqakula.

    "The budget for the SAAF’s ‘helicopter capability’ has been slashed from R915m in 2012-13 to R769m in 2013-14. Because of this only 71 flying hours have reportedly been allocated to the operational fleet of about 20 Agusta 109 helicopters.

    "This means there are reportedly insufficient flying hours to actually fly the Agusta 109 helicopters.

    "The 18 Agusta 109 pilots are reportedly not able to fly the minimum number of hours required to maintain their qualifications. The situation is so bad that there are rumours that a large proportion of the Agusta 109 light utility helicopters will have to be put into long-term storage," Mr Maynier said.

    He noted there appeared to be no shortage of funds for VIP helicopter flights for President Jacob Zuma. Ms Mapisa-Nqakula recently attracted criticism for using an air force helicopter to visit Tlokwe.

    Military expert Helmoed Heitman said the SAAF was suffering due to government indecision over the future of the defence force. "An air force without fighter aircraft is a dead duck in Africa’s military context. An army without helicopters and transport aircraft is a dinosaur in a swamp. An army without attack and tactical transport helicopters is a lame duck. A navy without helicopters and maritime patrol planes is blind," he said.

    Repeated attempts to obtain comment from the defence ministry failed on Wednesday.

  • #2
    Nigerian VIP AW101 Completes Test Flight

    The first of two AgustaWestland 101's destined to perform VVIP roles within the Nigerian Air Force has completed its post-manufacturing test flight at Yeovil in Somerset.

    Previously allocated to India as part of the now-cancelled order for 12 VVIP AW101's, this helicopter will be registered as NAF280.

    AW101 Mk641 destined for the Nigerian Air Force makes its post-production test flight at Yeovil on 19th September 2014 (Photo: Rick Ingham)

    Nigeria has also recently signed a contract with Russian Helicopters covering the acquisition of an unspecified number of Mi-35 attack helicopters and Mi-171 transport helicopters. The deal follows Nigeria's acquisition of second-hand examples of Mi-24's and Mi-8's.

    Local media reports have not included details on the precise number of new aircraft covered by the contract, referring only to a “substantial amount”.


    • #3
      Algerian Super Lynx Nears Delivery

      AgustaWestland is close to delivering its first of six new Super Lynx 300-series helicopters to the Algerian navy, with the manufacturer having recently conducted flight trials of the type carrying South African-produced missiles.

      Images taken earlier this month at the company’s Yeovil site in Somerset, England, show the rotorcraft carrying a full load of eight Denel Dynamics Mokopa air-to-surface missiles, loaded on four-round carriers on either side of its fuselage.

      Algeria's new 300-series Super Lynx as seen during flight trials in early October at Yeovilton (Photo: Andrew Morley)

      Denel says the semi-active laser-guided Mokopa anti-armour weapon has a launch weight of almost 50kg (110lb), and an effective range of up to 5.4nm (10km).

      AgustaWestland have declined to comment on the test activity.

      To join an in-service fleet of four Super Lynx 130s, the new Algerian aircraft are each powered by two Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company CTS-800-4N turboshaft engines. All six of the new type are expected to be handed over before the end of this year, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database. The aircraft awaiting delivery to the African nation are the last Super Lynx-series rotorcraft in the company’s backlog, it adds.

      Algeria has previously acquired six AgustaWestland AW101 search and rescue helicopters for its navy, while its air force has eight of the manufacturer’s AW119 trainers in use.


      • #4
        Rwanda Deploys Additional Helicopters to South Sudan

        The Rwandan Defence Force yesterday deployed two more helicopters to South Sudan as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), bringing the number of the country's military whirlybirds in the world's youngest nation to eight.

        The brand new UN-marked MI-17V utility helicopters took off at 7:10am from the air force base in Kanombe. They would make a stopover at Entebbe International Airport, in Uganda, for refueling before heading to their final destination in Juba.

        Air Force Chief Brig. Gen. Joseph Demali bidding farewell to the Air Force Commanders

        Rwanda previously had 119 air force personnel in South Sudan and the new deployment increases the country's air force personnel to 225, the Defence and Military spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita told reporters shortly after the choppers took off early yesterday.

        The Russian made medium twin-turbine transport helicopters will come in handy in peacekeeping operations as they, among others, operate as air ambulances, can evacuate about 25 people at once, conduct search and rescue operations in dangerous areas, and have night vision capability, Nzabamwita said.

        "These are valuable assets that the government and Rwandans are committing to help keep peace abroad. We have some in Juba and others in several other forward operating bases," Nzabamwita said.

        The MI-17, an improved version of the Mi-8, is reportedly a multirole helicopter used to replenish ground troops and can also be fitted with rockets, missiles and guns.

        Air Force Chief Brig. Gen. Joseph Demali together with other senior Air Force personnel walking towards the Helicopters to see off the Air Force Commanders

        It is often used by infantry forces to attack the point of penetration, reinforce units or disrupt counter attacks.

        It is also used for direct air support, electronic warfare, airborne early warning and mine laying.

        The choppers and personnel were seen off by Air Force chief of staff Brig. Gen. Joseph Damali, and other senior commanders.

        Attack helicopters:

        Nzabamwita said Rwanda will also soon deploy two MI-24 attack helicopters to UNMISS.

        An MI-24 attack helicopter is a large gunship and attack helicopter as well as a low-capacity troop transport helicopter with room for at least eight people.

        Rwanda deployed the first aviation units - three transport helicopters with 18 crew members - to support UNMISS in 2012.

        With over 5,000 peacekeepers in different UN missions, the country is currently the fifth largest troop and police contingent contributor to UN peace keeping missions.

        In Africa, Rwanda is second to Ethiopia in deploying air force units and helicopters to UN missions.