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Feature: Maritime defence an essential part of Operation Phakisa

A Super Lynx with a Valour class frigate.Economic growth through development of the ocean economy as part of Operation Phakisa requires effective maritime surveillance and defence, with nearly 4 000 kilometres of South Africa’s coastline that needs to be secured.

The first phase of its Operation Phakisa focuses on South Africa’s oceans and it is estimated that the blue economy could contribute up to R177-billion to the country's GDP by 2033. According to President Jacob Zuma, it could create as many as one million direct jobs, with millions of other citizens benefiting indirectly.

Operation Phakisa’s blue economy boost is based on marine transport and manufacturing, including refurbishing and shipbuilding; offshore oil and gas exploration; aquaculture and marine protection service and ocean governance, both of which will see heavy involvement from the SA Navy.

“It’s clear that as the activity on our coastlines increases, so too will our economic growth. However, this will also lead to a greater need for efficient, effective security,” said Johan Rattvall, Marketing Executive Manager at Saab Grintek Defence.

The South African Navy (SAN) is quartered at three garrisons along the coast in Saldanha Bay, Simon’s Town and Durban, and boasts a relatively small force of 7 700 troops. These hard-pressed resources perform search and rescue missions and protect maritime resources, amongst other duties.

“Even though the SAN is putting its resources to their best possible use, the oceans are vast, above and below the water line, and monitoring and protecting all who are active there will require innovative surveillance solutions, along with responsive and effective security and defence interventions,” said Rattvall.

The last 20 years have seen a general increase in trafficking, poaching and piracy on ungoverned waters all over the world, which in turn have had serious effects on many countries’ economies. Even the more powerful nation-states that have massive security and firepower at their disposal have been impacted by maritime crime. At the moment Europe is struggling with hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and flooding across its borders.

According to defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman, the whole region, and not just South Africa, needs to be secure from a maritime perspective. “We need the region around us to be stable, secure and prosperous. The better off they are, the more they can buy from us and the fewer illegal immigrants we will have. And the holiday lodges along the Mozambique coast that are owned by South Africans are also benefitting because their clients can go out safely to fish and actually catch fish as a result of the presence of a warship having put a major damper on all types of maritime misbehaviour. Regional security operations are not about us being charitable towards our neighbours, they are about our own self-interest. And that applies especially to the Mozambique Channel as most of our oil and a lot of our foreign trade pass through there.”

With its long coastlines and vast oceanic territory, South Africa needs to have capability for surveillance, communication, command and control, Saab believes.

“If you don’t have the awareness that surveillance brings you, you have nothing to control or to respond to. A system such as the Saab 340 Maritime Security Aircraft (MSA) offers long-reaching surveillance, as well as command and control capability, providing support for vessels out on the water,” Rattvall said.

The Saab 340 MSA is centred around the Saab Mission Management System. Communication is a key element of maritime domain awareness, and the Saab 340 MSA is equipped with Secure-AIS data links and a SATCOM system. In addition to ocean surveillance, the Saab 340 MSA is suited for search and rescue, oil spill and pollution detection, fisheries inspection, counter smuggling surveillance, illegal immigrant control, transportation, medical evacuation and exclusive economic zone monitoring, Saab said.

According to Heitman, a King Air or something similar, such as a Saab 340, Dornier 228 or C212 in a proper maritime surveillance configuration would be ideal for monitoring South Africa’s mainland exclusive economic zone [EEZ], and could in the interim also help support the SAN’s four Valour class frigates in the Mozambique Channel.

“Considering aircraft and again allowing for the Channel, we should probably look at about eight King Air or similar aircraft for the coastal and EEZ surveillance mission,” Heitman said. “But we will also need a long-range/high-endurance type for the islands and for the SASAR [South African Search and Rescue Organisation] requirement, for which the actual maritime C-130 would be ideal, pretty much the only type with the range and endurance that we can more or less afford, and those could also be used for airborne command post work and - after a respray - long-range SF [special forces] operations and as a back-up to the airlifter fleet in a crisis.”

Heitman believes at least four SH-130J Sea Hercules or HC-130J (the US Coast Guard variant) are needed to look after islands and South Africa’s SASAR commitment, as well as backing up the smaller type. “As and when money becomes available we can look at a proper MPA [maritime patrol aircraft] and also at UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to thicken up the surveillance coverage and to free aircraft for deployment to help other countries.”

Other aircraft that have been suggested by Heitman for the maritime surveillance role include the C295 and C212. Lockheed Martin has offered its C-130J Super Hercules to meet the South African Air Force’s tanker, transport and maritime patrol requirements.

Ray Fajay, Director, Air Mobility Business Development at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, last year said the SC-130J Sea Hercules would be ideal to support the SAAF’s maritime surveillance/patrol requirements and replace its 70 year old C-47TPs. This variant can be fitted with ESM (electronic support measures) equipment, six torpedoes, infrared sensors, maritime surveillance radar, sonobuoys, magnetic anomaly detector and four anti-shipping missiles. A single Sea Hercules would be able to patrol all three of South Africa’s exclusive economic zones in one mission, according to Lockheed.

Various other manufacturers in addition to Saab and Lockheed Martin have eyed South Africa’s maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft requirements, and L-3 has offered its King Air-based Spydr, Bombardier its Dash 8 Q400, and HAL and RUAG the Do 228. Other potentially suitable aircraft include the Viking Twin Otter, CN-235MP and ATR-42/72MP.

“At the moment anyone who believes that we have a maritime surveillance capability is indulging in magnificent self-delusion - neither the C-47TPs nor the C-130s have the necessary capabilities,” Heitman affirms.

The several C-47TPs used by the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) 35 Squadron for maritime surveillance are barely adequate for the job, as they have no special mission sensors such as infrared or even optical cameras or radar, and are around 70 years old.

Heitman points out that the SAAF cancelled Project Saucepan for new maritime surveillance aircraft, but did promise to move ahead with the maritime patrol aircraft project (Metsi). “That said, I saw no funds for Metsi in the budget, which is worrying.”

“Given that we have nothing and do not seem likely to get anything soon - the SAAF cancelled Project Saucepan for reasons that remain unclear, and Metsi is not on the horizon yet - we need to grasp at whatever straws are available,” Heitman states, and suggests using Gripens for surveillance, as the Swedes do.

“The Gripens could fly reconnaissance sorties along the coast and even over the Mozambique Channel, to at least provide a radar picture of what traffic there is. Using their reconnaissance pod they could even provide imagery of any ships believed to be suspect. Better than nothing; would give the fighter types some flying hours; and could be used to practise them in some aspects of the gentle art of anti-ship strikes.”

Heitman points out that the need to protect and monitor South Africa’s coastline and EEZ requires a mix of aircraft and ships, because aircraft cannot stay out long enough and cannot carry out an arrest.

In terms of vessels, Heitman believes that “accepting that the Mozambique Channel is a vital interest of SA's (oil route, future offshore gas and oil, Maputo harbour), and that we need to show ourselves in West Africa at least some of the time, the Navy should have a patrol force of at least eight large OPVs [offshore patrol vessels] with embarked helicopters in addition to the four frigates and at least two but preferably three support ships. Plus some small IPVs [inshore patrol vessels] for harbour environs. The submarines then continue to provide strategic surveillance. LHDs [landing helicopter docks] would need to be added if we want to play a regional role.”

“Study of the DR [2014 Defence Review] will show that the absolute minimum number will be eight [OPVs], accepting some gaps and some tasks falling to the frigates,” Heitman stated.

Under Projects Hotel and Biro, the South African Navy will receive three inshore and three offshore patrol vessels, and a new hydrographic survey vessel. Armscor is currently evaluating bids from various shipyards for OPVs and IPVs under Biro. Some of the local shipyards bidding for Biro include Southern African Shipyards, in partnership with Vard (formerly STX) and paramount Naval Systems/Nautic Africa, which has partnered with Austal and Navantia. Damen Shipyards Cape Town, Abeking & Rasmussen and Poly Technologies are also interested in Biro.

The six new Biro hulls are expected to be taken into service in three to four years from now and will, at least initially, work alongside the current OPVs. These are the converted Warrior Class strikecraft SAS Isaac Dyobha, SAS Galeshewe and SAS Makhanda.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the 60% local content requirement on both projects will see a projected spend of over R6 billion over the next three to four years. The local content requirement will guarantee that at least the hulls are built in South Africa.

“The problem is that gearing up to build just three ships is plain silly. If we were going for a two-phase project of six ships per phase, with smaller vessels and refits etc. between the two, it would make sense. To make all that investment for three is not good economics or even good strategy, given that the capability will be lost almost as soon as the last ship is delivered,” Heitman cautions.

He suggests developing a proper long-term fleet plan from the Defence Review and then developing a 30-year ship-building programme to build most or even all of the surface ships. “That will probably not be cost-effective per type, but would give a revived ship-building and outfitting industry a baseload of work on which to enter other markets, particularly for the offshore gas and oil industry.

“Considering numbers, the DR argues for three vessels operational at all times in SA waters and four for regional work. Assuming all of them are to be OPVs, keeping the four frigates in hand as a reserve and for more serious challenges (or when a high speed run is required as in the Tristan rescue a while ago), that means seven OPVs operational, which argues for about 10 in total. If we assume that the frigates are part of the four in regional waters, we will still need five OPVs operational, which argues for eight to allow for refit, training and for training with off-board MCM systems.”

“South Africa needs Project Biro to better police its huge maritime domain, which is 1 553 000 square kilometres in size and often labelled its ‘10th province’. Claiming sovereignty over such a large area also gives South Africa substantial international duties and obligations, as recognised and envisioned in the Defence Review. These include search and rescue, hydrography, disaster response and assistance, peace support operations and naval diplomacy,” Timothy Walker, Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria, pointed out.

“The IPVs would patrol South Africa’s coast and territorial waters for criminal activities, while the helicopter-equipped OPVs would have the ability to operate further out into South Africa’s exclusive economic zone and the high seas," he said.

Heitman is of the opinion that additional shipboard helicopters should be acquired to support Navy vessels. At the moment there are four Super Lynx maritime helicopters to support the four Valour class frigates, but Heitman believes two are needed per deployed frigate, as well as one per OPV, two medium helicopters per support ship and some for training and in the maintenance cycle.

As it is unlikely that the OPVs will be large enough to operate or even carry two helicopters, perhaps one plus some UAVs should be acquired, Heitman believes, like the Camcopter and/or the Scan Eagle - the former for close-in work (monitoring a ship being boarded) and the latter for long range surveillance.

Heitman dismissed the idea of using the SAAF’s A109 fleet for shipboard use as they have not been designed for maritime operations and protected against corrosion, and have proven less than completely satisfactory in South African Air Force use.

Apart from ships and aircraft, Saab believes other technology could make a meaningful difference to maritime security programmes, such as Saab Grintek Defence’s R5 Supreme AIS transponder system, the CoastWatch vessel traffic management and information service, TactiCall and Saab Port Management Solutions, among others.

“Comprehensive maritime security solutions require a multidimensional approach, engaging naval and political stakeholders as well as internationally recognised leaders in security and defence,” said Rattvall. “Close collaborations of this nature are sure to see the implementation of integrated, cost-effective solutions that will make meaningful strides in implementing maritime security.”

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