LDF shores up air force
A NEW Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) helicopter H125, nicknamed Litsebe, was unveiled at the Mejametalana Airwing in Maseru on Friday.
The unveiling ceremony also saw the LDF inaugurating its upgraded main service runway extension and main taxi way, a massive infrastructure development worth M70.8 million, funded by the government of Lesotho. This upgrade will ensure safer operations and efficiency of the Airwing services.
Speaking at the ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki commended the LDF, and in particular the Airwing, for its remarkable work in aviation development.
Mr Moleleki said the role by the Airwing in supporting stakeholders including the LDF, the government of Lesotho and clients in humanitarian and other operations both internally and externally, should be applauded.
“The multitude of roles you execute have proved your strategic importance, hence the need to maintain the Airwing as a viable Air Force within the LDF which provides critical services to Basotho and in the region,” Mr Moleleki said.
He explained the Airwing was an essential service provider in the LDF as it occupied a strategic niche in the total national security spectrum of Lesotho through provision of services ranging from defensive capability to operational support in tactical and non-tactical situations.
Mr Moleleki said the Airwing’s massive obligations are contained in the primary roles of LDF, which must be met at all times.
“It is therefore imperative for government to invest in that force capability which is demonstrated by undertakings of this nature and acquiring of more helicopters in future.”
The addition of Litsebe to the current fleet, Mr Moleleki said, was going to enhance operational capabilities of the LDF Airwing to continue providing airlift support for different functions and missions.
“While this measure is going to help improve existing fleet on the side of the light transport helicopters, LDF will still face a challenge of rapidly ageing aircraft in the medium utility class.”
He said the government was aware of the challenges and understands the need for periodic and timely review of operations and maintenance costs arising from repairs and maintenance of the ageing fleet.
Mr Moleleki added there was also urgent need for parliament to convince the Ministry of Finance to decentralise funds appropriated by national assembly to different entities.
He said both the Lesotho Defense Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service had complained that the sophisticated, long procurement processes within different government structures were heavily affecting their effectiveness to carry-out their mandate.
“It is definitely clear to us in government that something needs to be done about this problem rendering difficulties in releasing funding appropriated by parliament to different government structures. There is no need to keep the funds locked-up in the Ministry of Finance when appropriation had already been done by the parliament,” Mr Moleleki said.
Also speaking at the ceremony, the Airwing Acting Commander Major General Mojalefa Letsoela said as far back as 2008, there were clear signs that the main service runaway was due for rehabilitation after 50 years of service.
The runway length which is 1,300 metres in length and 30 metres wide has a load classification bearing strength capable to accommodate aircraft of medium class with all-up weight not exceeding 16,500 kilogram for day and night flying operations.
“A feasibility study was conducted under the auspices of Ministry of Public Works and Transport and engineering consultancy expertise employed at the inception of the project under the overall technical supervision of the Ministry of Defense and National Security,” Maj Gen Letsoepa said.
He explained the last phase of the project was the construction of the taxiway lane adjoining the fixed-wing and the rotor-wing squadrons.
“We encountered several challenges at the initial implementation phase particularly budgetary constraints and prolonged procurement process roll-out. This situation caused an apparent delay in acquisition of material, procurement bidding processes and moving of necessary resources to the construction site,” he said.
He added: “It is worth mentioning that, eventually the approved capital budget amounting to M54, 903, 340 was allocated during the financial year 2013/14 for the upgrading and rehabilitation phase only. Additional funds were also secured to pay consultancy fees and the construction of main taxiway accruing to the grand total of the project to approximately M70, 894, 474.”
He said the refurbished runway and its upgrade ground-based aeronautical logistics infrastructure will ensure the Airwing fulfils its mandatory aerial strategic and tactical tasks in the longer-term.