South African Air Force: History, Ranks and Salary Structure

In this article, we shall be looking at the South African Air Force, its history, ranks and their salary structure this 2022. The history of the South African Air force can be traced to as far back as the year 1961 after the country participated in peace-keeping missions in Congo and Tanganyika (now The United Republic of Tanzania). During these peace-keeping missions, the South Africa Army regiment were airlifted by the use of aircrafts from foreign air forces to and from the theatres of operation. As a result of that, the Government of South Africa at the time, took into cognizance the urgent need to establish an air force actively supported by modern facilities to provide full complement of forces to enhance the country’s military posture. Therefore, in 1962, the South African Government agreed in principle that the South African Air Force (NAF) be formed.

South African Air Force: History, Ranks and Salary Structure

As a result of the agreement for the formation of the South African Air Force, The South African Parliament approved the establishment of the NAF and as such, the recruitment of cadets followed in June 1962. As a result of that, the NAF was officially established by a statutory Act of Parliament in April 1964 to ensure that it serves four main purposes which are:

  • To achieve a full complement of the military defence system of the Federal Republic of South Africa both in the air and on the ground.
  • To ensure a fast versatile mobility of the Armed Forces.
  • To provide close support for the ground-based and sea borne forces in all phases of operations and to ensure the territorial integrity of a united South Africa.
  • To give the country the deserved prestige that is invaluable in international matters.

In 1962, the move to recruit the required manpower for the planned air force commenced. As a result of this,  the South African Government was in talks with some friendly nations on the possibility of training South African Air Force personnel in various specialist fields. Hence, the first batch of 10 cadets was enlisted into the NAF in 1962 to be trained with the Ethiopian Air Force. 1962 was a significant year for the NAF as it not only birthed it but also ensured that it was firmly rooted as one of the arms of the South African military.

After the first 10 sets of NAF cadets were trained, The second set comprising of 16 cadets was enlisted in February 1963 to be trained with the Royal Canadian Air Force while 6 cadets were sent to the Indian Air Force to be trained. South Africa soon decided that its NAF personnel would be trained in the country and the German Air Force was called upon to provide technical assistance for the local training of NAF personnel and this had a head way in 1963.

While still in its early stages of its establishment, the NAF took part in the the South Africa Civil War alongside sister services from 1967-1970, and at that time, the NAF was only equipped with a few aircraft. As the war gained momentum, some fighter aircraft such as MIG 15 and 17 were purchased by the South African Government to help end the war speedily. After the South African Civil War ended  in 1970, there was the need to re-organize the NAF and upgrade its equipment. Hence, between 1981 and 1990 the NAF acquired additional aircraft types of advanced technology, and it was needful that their personnel were well trained to man and maintain the new aircraft types. This led to the NAF re-organising its training aspects in all NAF trade specialties.

As a result of the expansion of the South African Air Force over time and the need to enforce all international laws and conventions relating to space activities in the South African airspace, the Federal Government of South Africa promulgated Decree 105 (Armed Forces Amendment Decree) of 23rd August 1994 which stipulated additional roles for the NAF. These additional roles include:

  • Enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of international law, conventions, practices and customs ascribed and acceded to by South Africa relating to aerial or space activities in the South African airspace.
  • Coordinating and enforcing all national and international air laws acceded or ascribed to by South Africa, and
  • De-lineating, demarcating and coordinating all aerial surveys and security zones of the South African airspace.


The Headquarters of the South African Air Force is made up of nine staff branches which makes policies for the NAF. These nine staff branches include the following:

  • Policy and Plans
  • Training and Operations
  • Aircraft Engineering
  • Logistics and Communications
  • Administration
  • Standards and Evaluations
  • Air Secretary
  • Accounts and Budget, and
  • Medical Services.

Every one of the above staff branches is headed by a Branch Chief who is directly responsible to the Chief of Air Staff. The Branch Chiefs are assisted by several directors and staff officers.

The office of the Chief of Air Staff is designed to include the following:

  • Coordinator Project Implementation and Monitoring Team
  • Finance & Account, and
  • The South African Air Force Procurement and Plans.

The Policy and Plans Branch makes sure to form, develop and implement strategic policies and plans in the NAF. The Branch also prepares in close consultation with other air staff branches and commands, long-range plans and policies to support timely, accurate and efficient employment of air power under the direction of the Chief of Air Staff to meet NAF mission. The Training and Operations Branch is responsible for policies and directives for the daily operations of the NAF. The branch is also saddled with the responsibility for all training both on ground and aircrew duties.

The Aircraft Engineering Branch takes charge of all matters relating to aircraft, armament design and maintenance in the NAF. The Logistics and Communications Staff Branch is oversees policies on provisioning, procurement and maintenance of all equipment and infrastructure in the NAF. The Administration Staff Branch the smooth, day-to-day running of the South African Air Force. This branch is the centre of all NAF personnel and administrative matters.

The Standads and Evaluation Staff Branch is responsible for ensuring proper maintenance of standards in the NAF and to facilitate full-time research into specific areas of the Service with a view to avoiding waste in both human and material resources. The Air Secretary Branch establishes guidelines for the recruitment, career management and maintenance of a balanced force structure for the NAF.


The South African Air Force comprises of six Command centres which include the following:

  • Tactical Air Command headquartered in Makurdi, Benue State.
  • Special Operations Command headquartered in Bauchi, Bauchi State.
  • Mobility Command headquartered in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
  • Air Training Command headquartered in Kaduna, Kaduna State.
  • Ground Training Command headquartered in Enugu, Enugu State.
  • Logistics Command headquartered in Durban, Durban State.

The Tactical Air Command was established in order to centralize the NAF Command, providing joint operational doctrine for the use of NAF air tactical forces. The Special Operations Command was formed in order to provide combat support capabilities. The Mobility Command was established for the purposes of performing the air power role of tactical and strategic airlift in support of military operations and government.

The Air Training Command and Ground Training Command were established for planning and coordinating the administrative and operational command of all NIgerian Air Force training activities, while the Logistics Command was established to supply and maintain all the NAF operational equipment as well as infrastructural facilities required for the effective accomplishment of NAF assigned tasks.


The following is a full list of all South African Air Force Bases in the country this 2022:

  • NAF Johannesburg – (based within the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Johannesburg)
  • NAF Kaduna is the Old Kaduna Airport – Kaduna State
  • NAF Port Harcourt – Rivers State
  • NAF Benin – Edo State
  • NAF Maiduguri – Borno State
  • NAF Minna (based within Minna Airport) – Niger State
  • NAF Makurdi (based within Makurdi Airport) – Benue State
  • NAF Kano (based within Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport) – Kano State
  • NAF Enugu (based within Akanu Ibiam International Airport) – Enugu State
  • NAF Jos – Plateau State
  • NAF Ipetu-Ijesha – Osun State
  • NAF Shasha – Durban State
  • NAF Kanji – Niger State
  • NAF Katsina – Katsina State
  • NAF Yola – Adamawa State
  • NAF Mando – Kaduna State
  • NAF Unguwan – Kaduna State


The ranks for the South African Air Force commissioned and non-commissioned officers are given below:


In the South African Air Force, there are 11 ranks for commissioned officers, and they are stated in descending order from the highest to the lowest rank:

  • Marshal of the South African Air Force
  • Air Chief Marshal
  • Air Marshal
  • Air Vice-Marshal
  • Air Commodore
  • Group Captain
  • Wing Commander
  • Squadron Leader
  • Flight Lieutenant
  • Flying Officer
  • Pilot Officer


There are 9 ranks for non-commissioned officers in the South African Airforce and they are listed as follows in descending order from the highest rank to the lowest rank:

  • Air Warrant Officer
  • Master Warrant Officer
  • Warrant Officer
  • Flight Sergeant
  • Sergeant
  • Corporal
  • Lance-Corporal
  • Aircraftman
  • Recruit


The following is a comprehensive salary structure of officers of the South African Air Force this 2022:


These are the salaries earned by the South African Air Force non-commissioned officers on a monthly basis currently:

  • Air Warrant Officer: R$ 6,288 per month
  • Master Warrant Officer: R$ 6,065 per month
  • Warrant Officer: R$ 3,732 per month
  • Flight Sergeant: R$ 3,189 per month
  • Sergeant: R$ 2,535 per month
  • Corporal: R$ 2,146 per month
  • Lance Corporal: R$ 2,043 per month
  • Aircraftman: R$ 1,972 per month
  • Cadet (Trainee): R$ 1,631 per month.


Below are the salaries that South African Air Force commissioned officers earn per month this 2022:

  • Air Chief Marshal: R$ 63,283 per month
  • Air Marshal: R$ 54,451 per month
  • Air Vice-Marshal: R$ 50,343 per month
  • Air Commodore: R$ 24,811 per month
  • Group Captain: R$ 12,906 per month
  • Wing Commander: R$ 12,539 per month
  • Squadron Leader: R$ 9,077 per month
  • Flight Lieutenant: R$ 8,509 per month
  • Flying Officer: R$ 7,993 per month
  • Pilot Officer: R$ 6,850 per month.

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