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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Air Force

The South African Air Force (SAAF) includes about 7,000 career active-duty troops and 3,000 active-duty volunteers who are fulfilling their national service obligations, as of 1996. About 400 air force personnel are women. In addition, about 20,000 reservists are available to be rotated into active duty as ground support personnel; reservists are also assigned to tactical air units and to units charged with safeguarding SAAF facilities (see fig. 22).

The air force is under the overall command of the chief of the air force, a lieutenant general, who is assisted by the chief of the air force staff and the air force inspector general. The air force's headquarters organization reflects the same six-division administrative structure as the entire military establishment, with divisions handling finance, intelligence, logistics, operations, personnel, and planning.

All regional commands and functional commands are answerable to air force headquarters in Pretoria for all air operations. Until 1993, there were two regional commands, the Western Command and the Southern Command. The Western Command was dismantled in preparation for South Africa's relinquishing control over Walvis Bay in early 1994. The Southern Command, located at Simonstown, has responsibility for several territorial command posts and bases in the southern coastal area. Air force bases not under the direct control of the Southern Command fall under air force headquarters at Pretoria.

The air force has two functional commands, the Training Command and the Air Logistics Command. The Training Command, headquartered in Pretoria, oversees programs in basic training, flying, navigation, logistics training, and other instruction, and controls most major training facilities. The Air Logistics Command controls several air force units, including airfield maintenance units, repair depots, and supply depots. It also provides complete matériel procurement and engineering services, including aircraft management and ground systems support.

Two other functional commands, the Air Space Control Command and the Tactical Support Command, were dismantled in the early 1990s as part of the overall military downsizing. The Air Space Control Command had been responsible for air defenses and control of airspace, in conjunction with civil authorities. The Tactical Support Command had conducted formal operational command and control training, as well as instruction in other air force operations. These responsibilities were assumed by other commands and by headquarters personnel.

In addition to regional and functional commands, the air force has several command posts, which are subordinate to commands. One of these, the Main Threat Area Command Post, is co-located with the air force headquarters at Pretoria. The Main Threat Area Command Post oversees the operations of several air bases, air defense radar sites, and other installations throughout the region. The Southern Command Post, headquartered at Cape Town, oversees operations of bases near Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and is responsible for air force maritime and other operations in these coastal areas.

The air force operates an estimated 400 aircraft. The fleet includes Cheetah, Mirage, and Impala fighter aircraft, Cessna light reconnaissance aircraft, and Oryx and Alouette III helicopters (see table 22, Appendix). The air force in early 1996 was awaiting the delivery of fifty to sixty Pilatus PC-7 basic training aircraft from Switzerland and planned to purchase several locally manufactured Rooivalk combat helicopters. The air force is also upgrading its Cheetah fighter aircraft and is developing plans to produce short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles for this purpose.


In the mid-1990s, the South African Navy (SAN) is a 4,500-person uniformed force, including 300 women. The navy is commanded by a vice admiral, the chief of the navy. The chief of the navy is assisted by a chief of naval operations and a chief of naval support; the latter two positions are filled by rear admirals. Naval headquarters are at Pretoria, although most important elements of the navy are at the navy's two bases at Simonstown and on Salisbury Island, near Durban. In addition to the headquarters organization and bases, the command structure includes seven naval units, flotillas, and independent ships (see fig. 23). Naval units are stationed in Johannesburg and Pretoria and at several of South Africa's major ports.

Naval officer training is provided at the South African Naval College in Gordon's Bay, near Simonstown. Basic training is provided at the nearby South African Naval Staff College and on the SAS Saldanha . Technical naval training is provided on the SAS Wingfield , and advanced combat and other nontechnical specialist training is provided on the SAS Simonsberg . After completing an initial period of service with the navy, voluntary service personnel separating from active duty are assigned to one of the seven reserve naval units.

The navy is organized into a submarine flotilla, which possesses three Daphne-class submarines, a surface-strike flotilla with nine Minister-class 450-ton missile craft, and a mine countermeasure flotilla with four River-class mine hunters and four Ton-class minesweepers. The navy's plans for upgrading and expansion include the purchase of four corvette hulls, to be fitted with a locally manufactured combat system. These are expected to be commissioned by the year 1999. The navy also plans to acquire six 800- to 1200-ton strike craft by the year 2003 and four new submarines by the year 2005, and is considering the decommissioning of its nine well-worn Minister-class missile craft (see table 23, Appendix).

The navy helped to celebrate South Africa's return to the international community in the mid-1990s, when a growing number of foreign ships docked at South African ports. The January 1994 visit to Simonstown by the HMS Norfolk was the first British Royal Navy visit in twenty-seven years. A month later, the French frigate FNS Germinal made the first official visit by a French vessel in nineteen years. In November 1994, two United States vessels, the USS Gettysburg and the USS Halyburton , received a twenty-one-gun salute in Simonstown in the first call by United States Navy ships in twenty-seven years.

South African ships also participated in joint naval exercises in 1994, the first in twenty years. In June 1994, a 6,000-ton fleet replenishment ship, the SAS Drakensberg , took part in exercises with the British Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The South African Navy also carried out joint exercises with the Argentine, Brazilian, and Uruguayan navies in May 1995. In addition, maritime training involved ships and aircraft from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain.

The navy has performed coast guard duties and search-and-rescue missions throughout its history, and is preparing for increased responsibilities during the late 1990s, primarily to protect the country's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and to combat smuggling and maritime narcotics trafficking. South Africa's navy is also in demand by other African governments; in the early 1990s, for example, South African personnel performed naval facility repairs for Zaire, marine surveys for Mozambique, and relief-supply transport to Kenya for shipment to Somalia and Rwanda.

Data as of May 1996

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