Combat pilots - secret's out

2010-11-18 22:46
Pretoria - The air force's "secret" about the number of qualified Gripen fighter pilots was recently made public in great detail by its own officers during a briefing.

The sudden secrecy regarding the numbers is probably the result of the growing persecution complex, which has been siphoning downward from the defence ministry, experts said on Thursday.

During a recent visit to 2 Squadron at the Makhado air force base, where the Gripens are based, the air force held a comprehensive briefing regarding its fighter pilots.

Brigadier General John Bayne, director of combat systems in the air force explained at the first solo flight of locally-trained Gripen pilots that the first six South African pilots were trained by the SAAB aviation and defence company in Sweden.

SAAB is the manufacturer of the Gripens.

Lieutenant Colonel Musa Mbhokota, the squadron's operations officer, said at the same occasion that the squadron will train a further three Gripen pilots next year.

Coincidentally, Mbhokota is one of the six who were trained in Sweden.

Solo flights

On this occasion three pilots, including the first female Gripen pilot, and a navigator conducted their first solo flights.

This brings the total number of trained pilots to nine, with another three to follow next year.

Brigadier General Wiseman Mbambo of the air force refused to say how many pilots there are at a Parliamentary briefing on Wednesday.

He said such a disclosure would involve "a threat to national security".

Lately similar excuses have been offered by the defence ministry as the reason why details about VIP flights and those of President Jacob Zuma also can't be disclosed.

According to military expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman, it is clear that the air force has no policy regarding what is classified and what not.

"Senior officers now look like fools because there's no proper, logical policy regarding what they are allowed to say. In this case they might be a little embarrassed to say there are only nine Gripen pilots.

"It's almost like a revival of the era of General Magnus Malan (former minister of defence) when no-one was allowed to release information without permission.

"Under Mosiuoa Lekota (former minister of defence) this practice gained new momentum, and now it appears to be common practice to avoid uncomfortable answers by invoking 'national security'," Heitman said.

Bayne said at a recent briefing that the air force has already received 16 of the 26 Gripens on order.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    sandf  |  mosiuoa lekota  |  military publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

The game of Heyneke’s life
Kriel braced for titanic Welsh clash
VIDEO: The Boks training at Pennyhill Park
O'Connell - Ireland's warrior king
Traffic Alerts

You may find it hard to focus on the mundane routines as the greener pastures seem so tempting. It is a good time to expand more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.