The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General W. S Mbambo hosted his counterpart from the People’s Republic of China, on a goodwill visit to South Africa. Besides enhancing good relations between China and South Africa, the aim of the visit was to engage with SA Air Force leadership, to visit SA Air Force Bases, training and research facilities, and to explore areas of mutually beneficial common interest.
The Chinese delegation was welcomed by Lieutenant General Mbambo at SA Air Force Headquarters, they made a turn at the SA Air Force College and paid a courtesy call to the Chief of the SA National Defence Force.
On Thursday 14 September 2023, the Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Mbambo flanked by Major General Sipiwo Dlomo, General Officer Commanding, Chief Director of Force Preparation, Major General Lance Mathebula, and Brigadier General Hilton Smith, Director of Corporate Communication Staff Services hosted the Chinese delegation at the Southernmost SA Air Force Base, Air Force Base Overberg.
Air Force Base Overberg is responsible for all experimental, research and development flight testing conducted in the South African Air Force. It is strategically positioned with a large volume of air space allowing for flexibility during flight testing, and has world-class capabilities and facilities.
General Chang Dingqiu, PLAAF, was accompanied by Lieutenant General Zhang Hongbin, Commander of the Western Theatre Air Force, Senior Col Hu Bo, Director Training Bureau, Senior Col Zeng Jianmin, Commander of the PLAAF Flight Test and Training Base, as well as two senior colonels of the PLAAF and three military attachés.
The Officer Commanding of Air Force Base Overberg, Colonel Donavan Chetty’s welcoming in Mandarin elicited smiles and nods from the foreign visitors. Lieutenant Colonel Kobus Meyer (Chief Test Pilot) also conveyed to the guests the Flight Test work done in China on the certification of the AVIC AC311 and AC313 helicopters and showcased his participation over the years in missile weapon testing. Quoting from a statement made by Lieutenant General Mbambo during his inauguration speech, Lieutenant Colonel Meyer mentioned that the Chief of the SA Air Force is in support of innovation and harvesting opportunities for revenue returns to the SA Air Force. The Test Flight and Development Centre at Air Force Overberg is very well suited to further this notion of the Chief of the SA Air Force.
He explained the significance of the Base’s location in relation to the adjacent Denel Overberg Test Range and the essentially symbiotic relationship between these neighbours.
Giving a sterile airspace for testing of Weapons, missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone testing) Hostile Fire Indicator (HOSFIN) provides the capability to detect ballistic projectiles fired towards an aircraft giving the pilot an advantage in the operational theatre. Current projects include Communication Jammer developments, Air-to-Air accuracy improvement, Combat jacket integration and Direction Finder upgrades. Lieutenant Colonel Meyer light-heartedly said that in the case that Major General Mathebula had to eject while doing air-to-air training and flying over the sea, Lieutenant Colonel Meyer’s mission as an Oryx pilot would be to gladly rescue him from the sea.
To measure is to know; the capabilities and limits of air systems. He stated that the Test Flight and Development Centre conducts tests and evaluations to characterise the “Military Worth” of air systems that ultimately support frontline operations. In affirming his statement Lieutenant Colonel Meyer referred to drone testing exercises in remote areas to drop off food parcels. In order for the Department of Defence to secure the best mission equipment, testing of its capabilities and specifications is not negotiable. Eliminating the error factor in battle is the Flight Test Centre’s ultimate mission and core business.
Lieutenant Colonel Meyer mentioned that South African Air Force pilots and engineers have been trained as test pilots and flight test engineers in the United Kingdom, United States of America, France and Canada. General Chang Dingqiu asked about the duration of the training. Lieutenant Colonel Meyer said, “The professional course takes 48 weeks and the Operational Test and Evaluation course 5 weeks.”
The delegation enquired whether the SA Air Force produces Weapons Instructors. Major General L. Mathebula (Chief Director of Force Preparation) confirmed that “the SA Air Force conducts such training at Air Force Base Makhado over a duration of 3 months. Air-to-air as well as Air-to-Ground weapons training is done at Air Force Base Overberg and Air Force Base Langebaanweg.”
Mr Hendrik Burger, a Chief Engineer from the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) gave an overview of the SA National Space Agency`s capabilities including its relationship with the Department of Defence. He said that SA National Space Agency resorts under the Department of Science and Technology which has become the leader in the theatre of Space operations. He also confirmed the milestones reached in regard to space activities and future plans for partnerships with the military and other established industries. The location of Air Force Base Overberg is well suited for innovation and technology research purposes. A well-rounded explanation of undergoing studies that guarantee future capability impressed the PLA Air Force Commander and his delegation.
Following the presentation, the delegation went on a walkabout to the Hangar and the Fynbos Telemetry Control Room for a close encounter with the Test Flight and Development Centre’s core capabilities and the nerve centre during testing. At the Denel Overberg Test Range, the Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Bridget Salo presented the roles and functions of the Range and also confirmed the close working relationship between Denel Overberg Test Range and Air Force Base Overberg.