Air Force revamps navigation tech

By Leon Engelbrecht
Johannesburg, 12 Mar 2007

SA's Air Force is sinking money into its navigation infrastructure in support of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Chief of the Air Force Lt-Gen Carlo Gagiano was, on Friday, cagey about putting figures to the project, but the looming contracts are said to be worth tens-of-millions of rands.

"We believe it is correct to do this before 2010, because we believe there will be a demand on airbases for [aircraft] parking" during the month-long event, said Gagiano.

Air Force command and control expert Colonel Thys Navrattel added the current navigation infrastructure had to be replaced. "We are replacing all the old navigation aids," he said, including the present crop of VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) radio beacons.

Navrattel said some technologies would not be replaced as they had become obsolete in a world dominated by GPS. He added the Air Force would also replace its radar network from 2015. The budget requirement for this was "under study", he said. Again, this will be tens-of-millions of rands.

The upgrade follows a similar endeavour at the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) Company, under way since 2005. A multimillion-rand project at the country's civil airports officially commenced on 1 July 2005 and was to run over 30 months. The ATNS order includes 10 DVOR (Doppler VOR) systems, 18 VOR systems and distance measuring equipment manufactured by Thales ATM, as well as equipment shelters, civil works and counterpoises for sites throughout SA.

Addressing future Air Force technology needs, Gagiano said these are being realigned with other SA National Defence Force priorities. His highest priority was a maritime patrol aircraft to support the Navy. This would be phased in from 2015. In the meantime, the C47 turboprop fleet would have to soldier on, he noted.

"We are taking some stopgap measures in the meantime. We have to look at upgrading some of the C47TP sensors," Gagiano said. "The fleet is currently fitted with rudimentary sensors, the pilots having little more than their eyes and binoculars with which to identify ships. Maritime patrol aircraft are often fitted with sophisticated synthetic aperture radar and optronic sensors. It is likely the latter will be fitted to the C47s as part of their stop-gap upgrade."

Gagiano also indicated the Air Force was looking for a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), but he did not elaborate. Initially remotely operated, many modern UAVs now take off, fly and land autonomously.

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