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Innovation gives Air Force wings to soar higher

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Columbus Mabika Herald Reporter

The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) will be celebrating 42 years next week.

Ahead of the commemorations, our reporter Columbus Mabika (CM) caught up with Commander Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ), Air Marshal Elson Moyo (AMM), at Manyame Airbase for a wide-ranging interview regarding the operations of the AFZ.

Below are the excerpts of the interview.

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CM: The Air Force of Zimbabwe celebrates 42 years of existence this year. May you kindly share the strides that you have made since assuming office to attain the vision of the organisation.

AMM: When I took office in 2017, I was very much alive to the challenges ahead and the guidance from the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces President Mnangagwa that the nation would no longer moan over economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and the resultant restrictions on maintenance and recovery of equipment and air assets.

As a result, with the support of the Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces, the Air Force of Zimbabwe embarked on a major aircraft and equipment recovery programme. Today the AFZ has the capacity to repair our equipment and also to develop our own systems using local expertise. The recent recovery of the F-7, Hawk, MI-35, Cessna 337 (Lynx), Islander, and Hunter aircraft as well as air defence anti-aircraft systems and radars is testimony to this. The AFZ got a chance to showcase some of the outcomes of the aircraft recovery programme at the wings parade held at JT Air Force Base, where all the aircraft types from all the flying squadrons were airborne to execute a mass fly past.

This is indeed a quantum step towards the attainment of the vision to have “a small, well equipped, robust and hard-hitting Air Force capable of effectively defending Zimbabwe’s airspace”.

However, equipment is only one of the key success factors and on its own, it will not guarantee attainment of the vision without the support of highly trained and capable personnel. In this regard, the Air Force of Zimbabwe has enhanced training and retraining programmes at the flying squadrons and all our training schools.

Admittedly, the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down our training operations, but I am pleased to note that with the suspension of some restrictions, the Air Force of Zimbabwe has escalated the training programmes at the following schools:

  • School of Flying Training at Josiah Tungamirai Air Force Base in Gweru.
  • School of Technical Training at Manyame Air Base in Harare.
  • School of Academic and Staff Training at Manyame Air Base in Harare.
  • Parachute Training School Dog Training School (DTS) at Manyame Air Base.
  • Recruit Training School (RTS) Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo Air Base in Chegutu.

Some of these schools are affiliated with the Zimbabwe National Defence University (ZNDU) and other leading institutions of higher learning as part of efforts to ensure that we equip our personnel with the skills to effectively perform their duties.

CM: With the changing trends in modern warfare, what is the Air Force of Zimbabwe doing to ensure that it’s officers are equipped to defend our air space and territorial integrity?

AMM: Technological developments have impacted all sectors with the military being no exception. Air Forces have always been at the cutting edge of technology and this means that any technological developments have a larger impact on the operations of the Air Force of Zimbabwe.

In order to prepare our personnel to effectively perform their various roles in defence of Zimbabwe’s airspace and territorial integrity, the Air Force of Zimbabwe continuously reviews the training syllabus at all our training schools in tandem with upgrades to our equipment and weapon systems.

As a new requirement, it is now mandatory for every graduating student from STT to do a project that is in line with research and development in relation to the AFZ thereby improving on innovation. The training schools are now affiliated to various national universities depending on the programme. A lot of innovations and upgrades have been made by our personnel through the efforts of R&D.

CM: The nation is implementing policies aimed at ensuring that the country becomes an upper-middle income economy by 2030. May you kindly share some of the operations by the Air Force of Zimbabwe that support the attainment of the vision?

AMM: In addition to guaranteeing a peaceful and conducive environment for economic development, the Air Force of Zimbabwe has contributed to the attainment of Vision 2030 through a number of activities such as follows:

Border patrol operations along the Zimbabwe-South Africa border. The operation has led to the arrest of smugglers and the recovery of goods. Such illegal activities negatively impact the countries’ capacity to collect revenue, hence the efforts by the Air Force of Zimbabwe and other Security Services have helped to deter would-be criminals and also reduce the incidence of smuggling along our borders.

The AFZ also plays a part in national economic activity. We are involved in agricultural activities such as cattle ranching, horticulture, and maize production on our farms. Current plans also include venturing into the commercial production of medicinal cannabis as part of the Force’s self-reliance initiatives and also to ease pressure on the national budget.

CM: We know that the AFZ as part of the ZDF, is involved in community assistance work and this has been the norm over the past 4 years, what can you tell us about this year’s activities?

AMM: Let me say, the past two to three years have been adverse. The world at large was brought to a phase of economic woes due to the global health pandemic of Covid-19. This health scare brought hurdles to socio-economic activities and transformed the way some things were done. As part of the ZDF, the AFZ is involved in quite a number of charity activities. There are charity activities that we do through the Commander AFZ Charity Fund and there are charity works that are done through our Air Force bases in different provinces.

Access to basic health care is a fundamental concern that we have observed as the AFZ. Pursuant to that, this year, a clinic in Neromwe District in Chiredzi rural will be handed over to the community during the ZDF Community Assistance Week. At the moment we have an ongoing project in Gokwe North, and in Matabeleland North province we are constructing an administration block for Simuchembu Secondary School where upon completion they will be able to register pupils to write exams once the school is accorded an examination centre status.

Apart from education and health projects being undertaken, the charity fund has managed to source wheelchairs from our AFZ partners which will soon be handed over to selected beneficiaries in need of wheelchairs in liaison with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare through our Social Services department.

CM: How has the AFZ catered for the welfare of its members?

AMM:  The welfare of our officers and members has always been a priority in the organisation. Over and above, the Defence Service Commission has managed to improve the remuneration of our members across the board. As for transport, the AFZ has acquired two new buses adding to our already existing fleet to cater for both living-in and living-out members. In terms of accommodation, the AFZ has built new living quarters for both single and married members.

Let me hasten to say that 80 percent of our officers and members have institutional accommodation. We have managed to receive financial support from the government for infrastructure development. You might be aware that we are currently building a hospital at Manyame Air Force base which, upon completion, will be a state-of-the-art ZDF referral hospital.

In that regard, I can say in terms of our members’ welfare, we have made great strides. Let me add that we will continue to look into the welfare of our members in an endeavour to improve their conditions of service.

CM: Looking ahead, what is your vision for the Air Force of Zimbabwe?

AMM: Guided by the National Vision, my aim is to have a small, well-equipped, robust, and hard-hitting Air Force capable of effectively defending Zimbabwe’s airspace. The process to re-equip the AFZ is ongoing and with the support of our Research and Development efforts, I am confident that this vision is attainable so that our “wings” continue to guarantee peace and security for our beautiful nation.

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