Airlift manufacturers were prominent at last month’s African Aerospace and Defence show in Cape Town, highlighting the need of the South African Air Force (SAAF) to renew its air transport fleet. Following the decision to terminate the eight-aircraft A400M order, and with the C-130BZ fleet set to retire in about 2015–and becoming increasingly expensive to operate in the meantime–the need to settle the requirement is becoming pressing.
In line with its commitment to lead peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in the continent, South Africa has stated a broad need for strategic airlift (Project Continent). Boeing is pitching the C-17 at that requirement, while Airbus Military insists that the SAAF is still considering the A400M, despite the earlier cancellation. Lockheed Martin claims that its C-130J can not only match most of the SAAF’s strategic needs, as well as provide an obvious replacement for the current C-130BZs, but also provide a maritime reconnaissance capability to replace the ancient Turbo-Dakotas currently providing a limited surveillance capability. The C-130J could also provide in-flight refueling for the SAAF’s Saab Gripen fleet.
South Africa is expected to issue its requirements shortly, and is likely to opt for a two-type fleet, with one large type backed up by a smaller tactical transport to replace the aging CASA 212s. The Alenia C-27J is a prime candidate for the smaller transport requirement, and was extensively evaluated by the SAAF last week.