SA Navy to commission Maritime Reaction Squadron
Chief of the SA Navy Vice Admiral Refiloe Johannes Mudimu will tomorrow commission the sea service’s latest deployable asset, its Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS).
The Navy says the specialist unit’s main aims will be to deploy in various peacekeeping roles within the African continent, assist in boarding operations at sea and to assist in humanitarian operations and disaster relief.
Mudimu ordered the establishment of a MRS capability in 2005. At the time many sailors were already involved in peacekeeping operations, providing VIP Protection services, conducting observer missions and using boats to carry out patrols on Lake Tanganyika.
"However it was decided to develop a specialist Unit to oversee all these different roles, and that this Unit must be from the SA Navy due to its expertise in riverine and littoral (boundary area between ocean and land) operations," Naval Base Simon`s Town spokesman Lieutenant Commander Greyling van den Berg says.
Navy chief director maritime strategy Rear Admiral Bernard Teuteberg says the MRS consists of a
· Operational Boat Division (OBD) with 10 Namacurra-class harbour patrol boats and six Lima-class utility landing craft
· Reaction Force Division (RFD) consisting of one naval infantry company with a command and support element
· Operational Diving Division (ODD) consisting of four operational diving teams (ODT) of 17 divers.
Teuteberg says the regular element of the MRS will in time be exactly duplicated by a Reserve Force capability.
"The MRS was born of a need to address problems on inland waters, rivers and lakes as well as asymmetric warfare threats in coastal waters. You will notice other navies are doing similar things but I think our idea of one unit with deployable assets that you task organise for a specific mission is unique to SA," Teuteberg recently said.
He adds the MRS can be forward deployed, in part, or in whole, as required.
Navy director maritime plans R Adm (Junior Grade) Sagaren Pillay adds that "doctrine for this squadron is to have available for any mission a mix of capabilities. Therefore, if we deploy a frigate and we need to protect it against an asymmetric threat then you have a RFD element aboard, a small element of the OBD and probably an ODT.
"If you have, as before, a ship like the [passenger liner] Oceanos sinking off the east coast, you would deploy all your ODTs, you would fly them in and support them ashore with what we call the camp segment.
"The whole MRS has its own command-and-control, its own technical support which includes vehicles and camp equipment and it can be deployed wherever it is needed."
Teuteberg says the Reserve Force mirror MRS is not yet in place. "We are not there yet. We are growing the people through the military skills development system. The RF is at [infantry] company strength, we now have to shed some personnel to the Reserves.
The ODTs are more difficult. Remember divers are well trained and they can earn [huge] salaries in for example the Nigerian oil fields … they get ten times what they get in any navy. So you have a fairly high turnover…," Teuteberg adds, saying divers need between 20 and 30, "that`s when they are physically [fit],.. Diving is incredibly physical."
Van den Berg adds that the issue of piracy off the African coast is currently "very contentious".
"It must be noted that the SA Navy will only become involved in anti-piracy operations once our government has made a decision in this regard. However, being a professional Navy we are aware of this situation and we are training to be ready for this and any other mission as determined by our mandate," he adds.
"One of the capabilities that the MRS will give the SAN and the country at large will be the ability to conduct boarding operations at sea, amongst others.
"As such the MRS members have benchmarked best practises from a number of foreign Defence Forces, such as those of the US, UK and France.
"They are trained to use small boats and helicopters whilst conducting these boarding operations. They will also be able to launch assaults from sea using small boats and helicopters and to establish a beach-head on a target area.
"One of the SA Navy projects that will ensure that the MRS is equipped to fulfil all their obligations is Project Xena. This project is divided into various sub-projects, of which one is the acquisition of new boats [for the OBD].
"The new Project XENA boat will also be unveiled to the public for the first time [tomorrow]," Van den Berg says.
"These boats are locally designed and manufactured and cost in the region of R3 million each. They have specific design features for the African battle space such as:
· Advanced communication equipment (valued at about R1 million) that can be connected to a central operations room where the commanders can have real-time tactical picture displayed on an electronic map.
· A very shallow draft where the boat can travel at full speed, fully laden in less than one metre of water.
· Special water-jet propulsion systems that can have the boats navigate over sandbanks and through surface vegetation with ease.
· Easily changed configurations where the boat can either transport 8 personnel or 1 500 kg of equipment.
· A 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm light machine gun.
· An endurance of nearly 24 hours on patrol.
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