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Johannesburg - The SA Air Force wanted the Agusta A109 that was bought in the 1999 arms deal, the Arms Procurement Commission heard on Wednesday.
Colonel Kevin Viljoen, a decorated pilot and project management expert who worked on the SAAF acquisitions, outlined the acquisition and evaluation process.
He said a second evaluation “unanimously concluded that the Agusta A109 was the superior product as measured against the approved military value index”.
Viljoen is the project officer for the Agusta A109 light utility helicopter (LUH), reporting to the director of Air Force acquisition in the defence materiel division.
He said that in June 1996 a non-binding request for information was issued to 16 companies which might be interested in the SAAF project to replace the Alouette III helicopter.
Three products were shortlisted: Agusta Un’Azienda Finmeccania for the Agusta A109, Bell Helicopter Textron for the Bell 427 and Eurocopter for the EC635.
The second evaluation picked the A109, and in early 1998 a request for 60 helicopters was issued to the three shortlisted contenders, which included the arms deal requirements.
In November 1998, the cabinet announced that the Agusta A109 Power variant had been selected, and contracts were signed the next month with effect from April 2000.
As project officer, Viljoen moved to Agusta in Italy in May 2000, where he stayed until December 2003.
He retired in 2009, but less than a year later, was back at work in a reserve force capacity to work on the helicopter project.
Viljoen has more than 20 years of project management experience. He joined the SAAF in 1968, and by the time he concluded his flying career in 1992, he had accumulated more than 6 000 hours of flying experience on fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and been an instructor on both.
He wears the SAAF’s gold wings for pilots logging more than 2 500 flying hours.
Viljoen was the project officer for the Super Frelon helicopter avionic upgrade in the 1980s, then the project officer for the Oryx medium transport helicopter development project until 1994.
He wrote the required operational capability and the staff target for the LUH project, then helped draft the user requirement statement for the maritime helicopter planning.
The 30 Agusta A109 LUHs were bought through the 1999 arms deal, and later the four maritime Lynx 300 helicopters used off the frigates, as a result of this planning.
Outside the hearings, a Treasury document showed another R50 million was paid off on the arms procurement foreign loans last month.
The total drawdown to date since December 1999 on the arms deal foreign loans is R29.39 billion, while repayments are now at R21.85bn.
Some of the arms deal acquisitions are being used off Mozambique in Exercise Oxide this week. This anti-piracy exercise involves the SA Navy, France and Mozambique.
The frigate SAS Isandlwana and submarine SAS Queen Modjadji, which are taking part in the exercise, are among the acquisitions from the 1999 arms deal.
The operation involved the search-and-rescue by South African and French vessels of a submarine “in distress”, said Commander Cara Pratten.
“Once the submarine was ‘located’, a South African special forces parachute team was dropped from about 4 000ft, and landed about 50m from the submarine, with inflatable boats.”