By John Miller

The use of the South African Air Force's aged Douglas DC-3 Dakotas for specialised tasks such as maritime surveillance has recently pushed the type to the front of the service's replacement list.

Eleven Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-powered C-47TP turboprops remain in use with air force's 35 Sqn. Operations are divided equally between maritime surveillance and transport tasks, with one aircraft also equipped with electronic warfare equipment.

 SAAF Dakota - pay Frans Dely
© Frans Dely

While many in the air force would like to see mission-dedicated types acquired as replacements, budgetary restraints are leading planners to instead look at a possible deal for multi-role platforms. As a result, a Dakota replacement would not only need to provide a new radar suite, but also be able to suitable for additional tasks such as dropping paratroops and supporting South Africa's international peacekeeping obligations.

The air force is understood to have a role assessment under way for the requirement, but the defence ministry has yet to issue an official request for information to launch the process.

With the air transport need expected to take priority following the cancellation of South Africa's order for eight Airbus Military A400Ms, Alenia Aeronautica promoted its C-27J at last September's Africa Aerospace and Defence show in Cape Town. The company's former US partner, L-3 Communications, is also expected to make a separate bid with the type.

Used since the SAAF's Avro Shackleton anti-submarine warfare aircraft were retired, 35 Sqn's five maritime surveillance-configured C-47TPs are limited to shipping observation and fishing area patrols, and to policing South Africa's economic exclusion zone. They can also perform search and rescue missions and air-drop up to two inflatable rafts.

In addition to potentially considering an adapted C-27J, it is possible that South Africa could opt for a smaller mission-equipped aircraft, for example in the size of a Beechcraft King Air.

But with no official acquisition guidelines in place, the air force may instead be required to continue operating its Dakotas. Despite the type's age and its use in proximity to salt water, its operators say the airframe and equipment, including a 1980s-era Bendix weather radar for seaborne target acquisition, are holding up well.

The unit's aircraft service units also continue to win the fight against the corrosion threat, and the C-47TP's additional maintenance needs are also well cared for. These include the airframe's heavy D-check wing-pull and a saltwater protection programme for its PT6 engines.

Flightglobal's MiliCAS database says South Africa's fleet of the type was delivered in 1943-44.

Source: Flight International