Zuma’s VVIP jet queried
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The Department of Defence’s plans to spend millions on a jet for the country’s “No 1” have met with little enthusiasm, but experts say that spending on planes with military airlift capacity is a different matter and concur with the defence minister that many of the country’s military’s planes are “antiques”.
Weekend Argus reported yesterday that Defence Minister Nosiviwe-Mapisa Nqakula had announced her department would buy a new VVIP (very very important person) jet, and focus on building strategic airlift capacity, which was sorely lacking. While the budget for the VVIP jet has not been announced, speculation is that it will come from the R4.6 billion in the department’s “secret” account.
Last year, it scrapped plans to buy a new VVIP jet at a price tag of R2bn.
On Friday, Mapisa-Nqakula said buying new aircraft was a matter of urgency since her department was spending millions on chartering flights for VIPs and for airlifting because South Africa had unsuitable or outdated planes.
Yesterday, defence analyst Helmoed Heitman agreed, describing some of the government’s planes as “antiques”. He said because there were no planes with long range and heavy airlift capacity, military equipment had to be transported in pieces and re-assembled on the other side, and troops flew in chartered planes.
The defence force’s VIP squadron 21 operates four planes: the presidential jet, bought in 2002; a Falcon 900 in 1991; and two Falcon 50s in 1982 and 1985, refurbished in 2005.
South Africa’s Hercules carriers date back to 1962 and 1963.
Heitman said South Africa had erred in buying the R600 million Boeing Business Jet, now named Inkwazi, as the presidential jet in 2002, as it was too small and its range was too short.
DA spokesman on defence David Maynier disagreed: “The defence operating budget has been cut to the bone and you would think scarce resources would be directed to the needs of the defence force, rather than (those) of the president.”
South African National Defence Union spokesman Pikkie Greeff also said spending should focus on “military capacity more than VVIP jets. We need to spend more on logistics and troop transport, unless the president will allow the defence force to use his VVIP jet the next time we need to extract soldiers from an operation”.
Greeff said that while he welcomed the minister’s “candid admissions” about the lack of airlift capacity, the issue had only really became problematic after the recent troubles experienced in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Heitman said troops deployed to the CAR had travelled there on chartered flights, and chartered flights had been used to extract some of them.
“Our air transport capacity is way below what we need to do the required work,” he said.
Heitman cited as an example the South African Search and Rescue Organisation, which effects “maritime and aeronautical searches” from half way between South America and South Africa, to half way between South Africa and Australia, and the South Pole. The SANDF is one of the government departments involved, but cannot “begin to cover” the area with its planes.