Are the SANDF’s helicopters grounded for lack of funds?

The SANDF's Agusta A109 helicopter
The SANDF’s Agusta A109 helicopter

The SA National Defence Force refused to comment on Wednesday about allegations that its 18 Agusta A109 helicopters were grounded as there were no funds to operate them.

“My comment is very clear: we do not discuss operational matters and [the defence force’s] state of readiness,” said SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini.

According to Beeld newspaper, it was told by an anonymous source that the helicopters were occasionally enabled, but did not ascend.

In the long-term, this reportedly meant pilots could lose their competency skills and that the helicopters would fall into disuse.

Beeld reported that the SAAF’s 26 Gripen fighter aircraft, which were also bought in the multi-billion rand arms deal a few years ago, were also rarely used.

A senior SANDF officer reportedly told the newspaper the situation was grim.

Amid a 60 percent budget cut, it was considering selling the Gripens and not just the A109 helicopters, but all helicopter operations.

Military expert Helmoed Romer-Heitman reportedly said the SAAF was suffering from government’s indecision about what it expected from the army.

“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,” he was quoted as saying.

“An army without attack and tactical transport helicopters is a lame duck. A navy without helicopters and maritime patrol planes is blind.” – Sapa