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Saturday, April 29, 2017
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Editor Column

Government progress doesn’t include the defence force

Embattled South African president Jacob Zuma had his spin doctoring machine in top gear this week issuing a more than three thousand six hundred word statement “taking stock” of progress made by government in the past year.

Issued by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga of The Presidency the statement is clear it is “not exhaustive” but the complete omission of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is not a good sign.

Apart from 165 words on benefits for military veterans, included as part of the statement’s focus on social transformation, and 90 relating to overall aspects of Operation Phakisa, there is no mention of what the country’s military is doing to contribute to national well-being and security.

Economic transformation and re-igniting growth and jobs; social transformation; governance and administration; safety and security and focus areas for the rest of the year are what the President’s chief spin doctor believes are achievements worth noting.

Not a word is said about the thin line of men and women in uniform who ceaselessly patrol the country’s landward borders preventing even more illegal immigrants entering and confiscating millions of rands worth of illegal goods that would otherwise be sold without any duties accruing to National Treasury. There’s also no mention of the close to one thousand five hundred soldiers doing the boots on the ground execution of government foreign policy as part on the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Dr Ngqulunga also overlooked last week’s visit to South Africa by Central African Republic (CAR) President Faustin-Archange Touadera who told the Commander-in-Chief of the South African military a commemorative statue would be erected in Bangui to honour the 15 South African soldiers who died there in a high-intensity firefight in 2013.

Zuma is not in a good space politically and spin doctoring is an accepted tool in the battle for political power. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to mention the SANDF. The South African military, for all its problems and faults, does many tasks well and recognition should be given.
 
   

Is Defence intelligence aiming to sabotage South Africa’s good military relations?

On one hand the Defence Minister is building bridges – the latest being with Pakistan – that will see personnel exchanges and technology transfers and on the other hand, almost lurking in the shadows, is Defence Intelligence with an apparently different agenda.

This was brought to light this week when it became known the SA Air Force (SAAF) is running a weapons camp at AFB Overberg with both Gripen and Hawk aircraft. Interestingly, the Luftwaffe is coming to the end of yet another intensive test period for its Taurus missiles at the same base using six Tornado jets and requests were made through official channels for at least some joint training with the South African fighters.

While it has not – and probably never will – be made official, defenceWeb has been reliably informed the request was turned down by Defence Intelligence.

Taken in the light of previous joint exercises in South Africa, involving the German air force and navy, with the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) airborne and maritime services, this decision doesn’t make sense. Added to this is the fact that South African pilots are training in Cuba and Russia, and according to the Chief of the Air Force its members have been sent to Cuba, Zimbabwe, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Bangladesh.

Making it even more illogical is Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s just completed visit to Pakistan when she entered into a memorandum of understanding that will see the South African military take part in exchange visits with their Pakistani counterparts as well take part in training and technology transfer. The MOU extends to the defence industry and one has to wonder if Defence Intelligence operatives will be scanning documentation to ensure the security of, among others, intellectual property remains “safely” in South Africa.

All round the impression given is that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. This, in a democratic country not at war, is an ominous sign of those working out of official sight and oversight attempting to exert undue control over what are normal military engagements between like-minded countries.

At the same time it should be borne in mind an SA Navy frigate is returning from an extended foreign tour of duty that saw her take part in exercises and training with both the German and Royal navies. Also that South African men and women in uniform are being taught specifics of the art of war and its many aspects in countries as far afield as Cuba and Russia. In the case of the Caribbean nation some of its military technical personnel are teaching and mentoring South African military mechanics at SANDF bases.

Defence Intelligence is also rumoured to have ruffled feathers with the SA Air Force by taking ownership of the Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) recently acquired from Denel Dynamics. In the past, the Air Force has operated UAVs.

The reasoning behind Defence Intelligence’s decision to avoid the Germans is not clear – defenceWeb has been informed the Chief of the SA Air Force avoided the German contingent when he visited AFB Overberg recently. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it is a lost opportunity for both South Africa and Germany.

It is also something that could hurt the Denel Overberg Test Range (Denel OTR), which relies on countries like Germany testing its equipment at the range. Defence Intelligence needs to start working with, not against, the SANDF, government and defence industry for the benefit of everyone.
 
   

SA defence budget shrinks again

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was allocated R46.8 billion in the 2017/18 national budget on 22 February, representing an increase of just under R1.5 billion on the 2016/17 budget. However, the increase belies shrinkage in real terms.

Inflation stood at 6.6 percent in January 2017, an improvement over some months in 2016 when it stood at around 7%. This compares to the 3% increase in defence spending for 2017/18.

The weak rand and currency volatility is due to further hit the coffers of the SANDF, which faces a tougher battle sourcing spares and equipment from overseas as well as sending personnel overseas for training.

The SANDF is already struggling to meet its mandate and sustain operations with a defence budget that is less than 1% of GDP. There is little money available for acquisition, for example, with most big projects on hold (Project Biro has been deferred to 2018/19 while the Air Force’s acquisition of maritime and transport aircraft, communications equipment and ammunition will only occur in 2019/20). However, Project Hotel for a new hydrographic survey vessel will take place in 2017/18. Smaller projects for things like field kitchens (Teamster), mine detection gear (Pirate) and engineering equipment are being implemented.

The little money available for operations and equipment is evident in the fact that the majority of the Department of Defence’s budget will go towards the compensation of employees, although wages and salaries will drop by R1.9 this financial year and by R2.9 billion in 2018/19 as government tries to save money. This will see the downsizing and ‘right sizing’ of the defence force through personnel cuts.

Saving money is all well and good, but if less money is spent on the SANDF, it should be asked to do less. However, there is no indication that the SANDF’s responsibilities will be reduced, and it is still expected to patrol South Africa’s borders under Operation Corona, contribute peacekeepers to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, patrol the Mozambique Channel and fulfil its other duties from search and rescue to VIP transport.

The economic situation of almost zero growth means no relief is in sight for the SANDF. Increasingly the chief of arms of service are acknowledging that funding is constraining their operations, but until the political landscape changes or the economy improves, things will not be getting any better. In the meantime, it is time for the powers that be to realise that one does not do more with less; one does less with less.

   

SA defence budget shrinks again

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was allocated R46.8 billion in the 2017/18 national budget on 22 February, representing an increase of just under R1.5 billion on the 2016/17 budget. However, the increase belies shrinkage in real terms.

Inflation stood at 6.6 percent in January 2017, an improvement over some months in 2016 when it stood at around 7%. This compares to the 3% increase in defence spending for 2017/18.

The weak rand and currency volatility is due to further hit the coffers of the SANDF, which faces a tougher battle sourcing spares and equipment from overseas as well as sending personnel overseas for training.

The SANDF is already struggling to meet its mandate and sustain operations with a defence budget that is less than 1% of GDP. There is little money available for acquisition, for example, with most big projects on hold (Project Biro has been deferred to 2018/19 while the Air Force’s acquisition of maritime and transport aircraft, communications equipment and ammunition will only occur in 2019/20). However, Project Hotel for a new hydrographic survey vessel will take place in 2017/18. Smaller projects for things like field kitchens (Teamster), mine detection gear (Pirate) and engineering equipment are being implemented.

The little money available for operations and equipment is evident in the fact that the majority of the Department of Defence’s budget will go towards the compensation of employees, although wages and salaries will drop by R1.9 this financial year and by R2.9 billion in 2018/19 as government tries to save money. This will see the downsizing and ‘right sizing’ of the defence force through personnel cuts.

Saving money is all well and good, but if less money is spent on the SANDF, it should be asked to do less. However, there is no indication that the SANDF’s responsibilities will be reduced, and it is still expected to patrol South Africa’s borders under Operation Corona, contribute peacekeepers to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, patrol the Mozambique Channel and fulfil its other duties from search and rescue to VIP transport.

The economic situation of almost zero growth means no relief is in sight for the SANDF. Increasingly the chief of arms of service are acknowledging that funding is constraining their operations, but until the political landscape changes or the economy improves, things will not be getting any better. In the meantime, it is time for the powers that be to realise that one does not do more with less; one does less with less.

   

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