The SAAF received a visit from Brazil on Friday 24 November 2023 per a visit of Embraer and specifically the Embraer KC390. The Embraer KC-390 named the Millennium is a medium-size, twin-engine, jet-powered military transport aircraft designed and produced by the Embraer . It is the heaviest aircraft the company has constructed to date.
According to a communication from the SANDF, a visit to Brazil during April 2023 was undertaken regarding plans to bring the C-390 transport aircraft to South Africa for testing and demonstration. The purpose of the event is to showcase the aircraft's cutting-edge air-to-air refuelling, humanitarian aid capability/flying equipment, search and rescue and aerial fire-fighting capabilities.
The KC-390 inbound for landing at AFB Waterkloof. (With the tail of a SAAF C-130B in the foreground.)
To bring the size of the Embraer KC390 into context when compared to Lockheed C-130J, the KC-390's hold is 18.5 long, 3.45 m wide, and is 2.95 m high with a rear ramp. The C-130J's hold is 12.5 m long, 2.74m high, and 3.05 m wide, also with a rear ramp. The hold of the KC-390 is large enough for 2 Ratel APC, or an Oryx helicopter with the blades folded.
The KC-390 was developed by Embraer to compete with the Lockheed Martin C-130J. When compared to the C-130J, the KC-390 is 15% faster, carry 18% greater cargo and cost 41% less to purchase. Despite having a 15% lower range than the C-130J, the KC-390 includes aerial refuelling as a standard feature (with only a few specialized sub-variants of the C-130 have an aerial refuelling capability).
A USAF C-130-J during AAD 2022 at Waterkloof AFB.
In a press interview the Chief of the South Africa Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya, indicated that a decision had not yet been made to acquire the KC390, and that other similar aircraft will also be considered. He also indicated that the SAAF however has an urgent need for additional medium lift transport aircraft. In the short term these aircraft can be used to complement the existing SAAF C-130B aircraft and the in the longer run a squadron may be developed.
A SAAF C-130B during a parabat drop a couple of years ago.
Without committing himself the General also indicated the need to strengthen South-South cooperation which could indicate cooperation with Brazil, the country where Embraer is located. He further also emphasised cooperation within BRICS which could then also include aircraft from for example China. (Perhaps the Shaanxi Y-9)
A Fire-fighting capability for the KC-390 has also been developed. This could make the purchase of the KC-390 also attractive for interdepartmental purposes. As it is the KC-390 would not only be a very welcome addition to the SAAF inventory, but also a force-multiplier in terms of medium airlift capabilities.