The South African Air Force is seeking additional funding to resurrect its postponed purchase of naval helicopters as it begins to consider equipment priorities beyond its strategic defence package of fighters, trainers and helicopters.

South Africa had planned to order four LHTEC T800-powered AgustaWestland Super Lynx helicopters but funding shortages forced the deal to be dropped from the R30 billion ($3.68 billion) programme. Naval helicopters are needed to equip the South African Navy's new warships, which are due to start trials in 2003.

"The helicopters could not be fitted into the budget at the time and the government decided to leave them out. It's still a requirement and we have applied for additional money to continue the purchase," says Lt Gen Roelf Beukes, chief of the SAAF, speaking at the show. "Westland remains our preferred supplier, but it's all down to money and we might be forced to look at other options."

Alternative options include "marinising" existing SAAF helicopters, such as the Denel Oryx. Another option is to "go to the market again and look for upgraded or new models," adds Beukes.

Longer term the SAAF is eyeing the acquisition of an airborne early warning capability as part of its strategic surveillance plan. An operational requirement has already been approved, but funding is another matter. "There won't be a window for affording this until the end of the Gripen programme from 2008 onwards," says Beukes.

The SAAF's other key priority is to modernise its fixed-wing maritime patrol capability, which relies on five re-engined Douglas C-47TP Turbo Dakotas.

The SAAF has ordered nine Saab/BAE Systems Gripens and has options on another 19, with deliveries to begin by late 2007 and conclude in 2010. Delivery of 12 BAE Hawk lead-in fighter trainers will start in 2005-06, with 12 options. Meanwhile, the first SAAF pilot has qualified on the Agusta A109 helicopter, 30 of which are due for delivery.

Source: Flight International