This week, the South African Air Force (SAAF) held its annual Prestige Day Parade at the Air Force Base Waterkloof and named as its most prestigious unit the Air Force Base Bloemspruit. Just what has this unit done to deserve such an honor? Bloemspruit, home to 16 Squadron flying Rooivalks, is a fighting base that has been deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo working to bring the lessons of the battlefield home to the SAAF as a whole.
The strong performance of this base has been apparent at the highest levels despite what are widely acknowledged budgetary restrictions. Chief of the Air Force Lieutenant General Zimpande Msimang, who handed out the award, discussed the success that had led to its choice of recipient, while acknowledging the constraints under which it operated:
“Though we did our best with the resources at our disposal, I am the first to acknowledge that we can still do better…Despite various challenges the SAAF has succeeded admirably in maintaining a high level of core competencies. SAAF assets were very much involved in several SANDF (South African National Defense Forces) and high visibility activities, such as the opening of Parliament, Armed Forces Day in Port Elizabeth, Air Power Demonstration in Roodewal, support to the South African Navy in the anti-piracy effort in the Mozambique Channel, combat and sustainment support to external missions, [and] support to internal operations and other government departments.”
So, how are they managing to operate so successfully with the reduced budgets? One answer has come from 3D printing. Part of the push made by the SAAF to further excel has included placing pressure on local defense industries to fill orders faster and at a lower cost. With a firm track record of assisting in exactly these kinds of situations, the potential for 3D printing to fit the bill was easily recognized. As Msimang explained:
“With this in mind, our country continues to invest in cutting edge research and development and our international collaboration led by the Department of Science and Technology and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research are yielding promising results in the fields of additive manufacturing and 3D printing with the first parts now nearing industrialization for use in truly South African products like Ahrlac.”
This puts South Africa’s military squarely in line with defense efforts around the globe that are increasingly recognizing the potential held by 3D printing for not only standard production but also response to conflict on an as needed basis.