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Reserve Force Chief says South Africa must have a well-funded defence force

Reserve Force Chief on South African defence forceThe man at the helm of South Africa’s reserve force capability firmly believes it’s a necessity for the country to have a well-funded defence force.

“South Africa is at risk and needs a well-funded defence force. Delay will inevitably involve additional costs,” Major General Roy Andersen told the Defence Force Service Commission conference in Pretoria.

In support of his statement he gave delegates some insights from the business community as well as opinions from South Africa’s top soldiers. He went on to explain some of his thinking around implementation of the Defence Review and the deterrence value of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

Business, he said, wanted to know why the country was spending R47 billion a year on defence when there are other priorities including education and healthcare.

“Frustration is often shown in conversations among SANDF leaders who ask ‘why is it not realised that by an ever decreasing SANDF budget, in real terms, and by spending less than two percent of GDP on defence, South Africa is running a real risk’.

“So where does the truth lie between these two, admittedly at times, superficial lines of thought?” he asked, pointing out, among others the chances of peace missions where South Africa is involved could turn into combat situations as happened in the Central African Republic in 2013.

Overall the Defence Review, according to Andersen, proposes five means of mitigating risks in Africa. These include the deterrence value of the national defence force and military intervention as a last resort.

“South Africa can ill afford to be unprepared for these risks but the question of whether the SANDF can continue to provide a credible deterrence capability has to be asked.”

Included in deterrence are credible combat forces, rapid force generation, trained reserves, strong doctrine, quality training, technology and good morale. Current budget constraints, he said, are increasingly placing these capabilities under threat.

As far as the consequences of the defence budget, as it presently stands, are concerned Andersen maintains it is “gloomy”.

“The defence force is in a critical state of decline, characterised by: force imbalance between capabilities, block obsolescence and unaffordability of main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments and a lack of critical mobility.

“Left unchecked and at present funding levels this decline will severely compromise defence capabilities.

“There must either be a greater budget allocation or significantly scaled down level of ambition.

“Even with an immediate intervention, it would take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability.

“The longer the neglect is perpetuated, the greater the effort, time and cost that would be necessary to arrest the decline and restore minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa’s borders, protect its trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions, safeguard South Africa and its people and defend and protect the country against external aggression,” he said.

In the short term he proposes the SANDF improve efficiencies and “ruthlessly” prioritise expenditure while maximising all revenue sources.

At the same time National Treasury should fund a personnel rejuvenation programme. This should include reskilling of exiting members and facilitation of new and younger intakes for the Regular and Reserve forces.

“This,” he said,” could be achieved by a modest injection of about R2.5 billion in year one with marginal increases in each of the next four years”.

In the medium term Andersen maintains the defence budget should incrementally shift up to two percent of GDP to facilitate implementation of the Defence Review.