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Saturday, March 25, 2017
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Editor Column

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.

   

Is Armed Forces Day a spectacular waste of resources?

The upcoming Armed Forces Day celebrations on 21 February in Durban will no doubt be spectacular and are a good way of showing off the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to the public, inspiring confidence and pride in southern Africa’s strongest military.

There is a perception amongst many South Africans that spending on the military is unnecessary considering all the other challenges the country is facing. During Armed Forces week in Durban, interacting with the public, giving advice on careers and showcasing equipment used in peacekeeping and border patrol missions will give South Africans a better understanding of what the SANDF does and how it works for the peace, stability and economic prosperity of South Africa.

Armed Forces Day is also a chance to show off the might of the SANDF and create the impression of a strong and capable military. 21 February is also an opportunity to honour fallen soldiers, especially those who died in the sinking of the SS Mendi troopship in 1917. The lives of soldiers lost in the intervening century can also be commemorated.

However, some have criticised Armed Forces Day as being one of President and Commander-in-Chief Jacob Zuma’s vanity projects and such extravagant displays of military prowess are going to cost the SANDF a huge amount of money. Indications are that over 4 000 soldiers have been deployed to Durban along with over 400 vehicles and half a dozen ships. Based on the experience of Armed Forces Day 2016 in Port Elizabeth, dozens of aircraft will also participate – Gripens, Hawks, Oryx, A109s, Rooivalk, C-47s, C-130s and Caravans, amongst others.

When one considers that it cost over R100 000 an hour to fly a Gripen and Hawk, and hundreds of thousands of rands more to get ships and submarines off the coast, the bill from Armed Forces Day is going to be tens of millions of rands.

It can be argued that a lot of the budget spent on Armed Forces Day can be written off to training – the capability demonstrations are indeed good practice for the SANDF, and Air Force pilots and Navy sailors will relish being able to stretch the legs of their equipment.

However, as beneficial as such training and experience is, the SANDF is urgently needed elsewhere. Securing South Africa’s borders is a task that largely falls to the South African Army, while patrolling our coastline is largely the job of the SA Navy. The SAAF, meanwhile, is occupied with transporting troops and equipment to deployed forces locally and internationally (to places like the DRC for peacekeeping support) and fighting fires, amongst other tasks such as search and rescue.

In light of increasing budget cuts, the SANDF needs to be very careful with the limited resources it does have. While Armed Forces Day has its merits, the money and effort can be much better spent on thinly stretched operational deployments.


   

SONA more like The Nation is in a State, defence-wise

Last weeks’ much-touted State of the Nation Address (SONA) by South Africa’s first citizen, President Jacob Zuma, again failed to shed any light on the thinking of the Commander-in-Chief of the country’s military as far its utilisation, equipment and human resources are concerned.

He dealt, briefly, on a three way partnership that will see improved utilisation of the government-owned dockyard at Simon’s Town but did not venture into the role the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been given by Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in rural development. This was one area military watchers, defenceWeb included, had expected Zuma to highlight if not necessarily explain. But nary a mention of the initiative, currently centred on North West province with a Ministerial injunction that the MOU on which it rests should not gather dust in offices.

Speaking at the signing of the MOU with the North West provincial government in 2015 she said: “It should be a living document that drives our work and commits us to concrete results that create material conditions for the upliftment of people in rural areas”.

If the President didn’t say anything about it, it’s possible nothing has happened or he hasn’t been informed or even that he has been informed and doesn’t deem it worth telling the nation.

Whichever, it was yet another missed opportunity for the SANDF to tell one of the “good stories” the President feels are not told often enough.

Zuma also made no mention of the Border Management Authority (BMA), another government agency set to come into being this year as the responsible body for border control at South Africa’s 72 legal points of entry and exit. Nor did he speak a word about the thousands of kilometres of particularly land border a thin line of soldiers patrol 24/7, 365/12 under difficult circumstances.

Zuma’s did mention defence in reference to peacekeeping. “We will continue with our involvement in our mediation efforts, peacekeeping operations, and peace-making initiatives in Lesotho, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Mozambique, South Sudan, Somalia and Libya. The South African National Defence Force represents the country well in the peacekeeping missions,” he said.

In his SONA address Zuma also mentioned Armed Forces Day, which he initiated in 2012. This year’s iteration will be held in Durban. “Let me add that South Africa will use Armed Forces Day on 21 February 2017 to mark the centenary commemorations of the tragic sinking of the SS Mendi, which left 646 soldiers dead in 1917,” he said.

Judging from what he didn’t say about the defence force it’s safe to assume the defence budget will again be reduced this year with very few voices raised in objection.
 
   

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