Two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers are paying an official visit to South Africa at present. They landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria yesterday. Here’s video of one of them on final approach, escorted by two South African Air Force Hawk trainer aircraft. I know the area where the photographer was standing very well; I’ve stood there myself more than once, watching aircraft arriving and departing.
It was a bittersweet sort of feeling for me to watch that video, for two reasons.
The first is that, back in the days of my active military service, any such Russian (i.e. Soviet) aircraft showing up within striking distance of South Africa would have been attacked with everything the South African Air Force had at its disposal. I wonder how many ex-servicemen living in the vicinity of Waterkloof felt their fingers itching for a man-portable air defense missile as they watched that bomber fly overhead? I did, even in Texas, thousands of miles away.
The second is that in my day, during the Border War, the South African Air Force was the most powerful in sub-Saharan Africa, by a very long way. It had scores of supersonic fighters and strike aircraft, and a rich history of combat success. Today . . . not so much. It doesn’t have enough pilots for its relatively few allegedly “operational” Saab Gripen fighters, and even if it did, it doesn’t have enough technicians and mechanics to maintain them properly, and it can’t afford the spare parts. The visiting Russian bombers had to be escorted by training aircraft, because the SAAF couldn’t muster even a couple of proper fighters for the job! It’s a terrible reflection of how the South African Defense Force in general, once the best in Africa, has become a pitiful shadow of its former self, and a sour, acid joke to those of us who knew it in its heyday.
Like I said . . . bittersweet.