Monday, December 11, 2017
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Editor Column

Still no confirmation on future management of the Simon’s Town dockyard

It’s been a year since the announcement that new Denel division – Denel ISM (Integrated Systems and Maritime) – will be the manager of the Simon’s Town naval dockyard but since then Armscor is still effectively in charge of the facility.

In Denel’s latest annual report, acting chief executive Zwelakhe Ntshepe names the handover of dockyard management to the State-owned defence and technology conglomerate in his performance review.

“This gives Denel a strong foothold in the naval environment and I am confident it will become a catalyst for our participation in a number of maritime acquisition programmes currently in the pipeline,” Ntshepe wrote.

The maritime acquisition programmes he refers to are Projects Biro and Hotel. Originally meant to supply the SA Navy with seven new platforms, it has been cut by three with only a new hydrographic vessel and three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) still – hopefully – on the acquisition list.

The Simon’s Town facility, whether managed by Denel ISM or not, doesn’t feature in the current list of Armscor’s preferred bidders for the four vessels. Southern African Shipyards (SAS) in Durban is the preferred bidder for the new hydrographic vessel and Damen Shipyards Cape Town enjoys the same status as regards the IPVs. The Request for Offer (RfO) for the OPV component of Biro was withdrawn earlier this year - apparently due to budget constraints with no indication of when, or if, it will be resuscitated.

This has also put the spotlight onto the memorandum of understanding entered into between Denel and Poly Technologies of China. That document was apparently predicated on the Chinese company being awarded either the hydrographic or patrol vessels shipbuilding contract and becoming involved in the dockyard.

This also raises the question of the role of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in the dockyard. In March this year it signed an agreement with Denel covering the support of the South African Navy’s three submarines and four frigates, with TKMS to provide general support to the dockyard operations, infrastructure and maintenance. As per the MoU, TKMS would provide technical support for frigate and submarine work in the dockyard.

At present there is no clarity. Will Denel, in the form of its maritime division, take over Simon’s Town shipyard management? When will Denel have the National Treasury approvals Armscor maintains are needed before it can take over the dockyard? In September last year Denel ISM was selected to take over dockyard management, with Armscor interfacing between the SA Navy and Denel. Transfer to Denel ISM was supposed to take place after certain conditions were met.

With President Jacob Zuma scheduled to imminently update the nation on the blue economy component of Operation Phakisa it would be good to know the shipbuilding and maintenance that can be done at Simon’s Town will in fact happen.

At the same time progress to the point of naming contractors and starting dates for work on the new SA Navy platforms would also be welcome, if the projects do indeed go ahead.

In its 2017 Annual Performance Plan, the Department of Defence said it has “reprioritised the planned acquisition of a hydrographic vessel to the FY2017/18 and the acquisition of offshore patrol vessels to the FY2018/19. This is expected to increase spending in the Maritime Combat Capability sub-programme in the Maritime Defence programme in those years.”

However, the Maritime Defence budget allocation will not change much over the coming years, increasing slightly from R4.790 billion in 2017/18 to R4.893 billion in 2018/19 but then drop to R4.482 billion in 2019/20, almost the same as 2016/17.


It’s time SANDF management acts on personnel spending

While the dictum of 40:30:30 spending regarding personnel, operating costs and capital renewal is not cast in stone, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) doesn’t appear to be paying any attention, even though this was the basis used by Roelf Meyer’s Defence Review committee.

Earlier this month the landward force announced the appointment of no less than 19 new brigadier generals and the just ended Exercise Ndlovu, the SANDF’s annual signature defence force preparation and combat readiness exercise, saw 1 400 military personnel involved. This is more than a thousand less than took part in Ex Ndlovu 2016 and 2 600 less than in 2011, when it was a full-fledged peace support exercise. This year’s iteration of Ndlovu saw border protection drills, tactics and doctrine exercised and the senior military command will probably justify the lesser number of bodies by pointing out border protection does not necessarily require the number of boots on the ground that peace support ops does.

Whatever spin the military does put on it, the bottom line remains that salaries and wages are by far the biggest component of the national defence budget. Some commentators put it as higher than 56 percent and others regularly point to the need for retrenchment of uniformed personnel who are either desk drivers or cannot contribute to the “fighting force” part of the SANDF because of age or health constraints.

At the end of the day it’s high time Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and General Solly Shoke, SANDF Chief, stop talking about the challenges facing the military and initiate action. It might be singularly unpalatable for the Minister as a representative of the ruling party and for Shoke, who is after all a government employee, but the time has now arrived for hard decisions.

The situation brings to mind an observation by a foreign military attaché. Currently on an African tour he regularly visits South Africa and after his last call here remarked to defenceWeb that the SANDF “appears to be marking time, rather than advancing”. An astute observation and one that should cause sleepless nights for those at the helm of the national military machine.

SANDF personnel numbers – time for action!

Last week’s parade in Simon’s Town, where close on 200 medals were presented for long service in the national defence force, is one of a number of similar parades to be held nationally until year-end.

While it has long been military tradition to recognise long and loyal service – and defenceWeb is not for a minute suggesting it be stopped – the current personnel situation of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) makes the medal parades part of a Catch 22 that senior defence and military management either cannot or are unwilling to find a solution to.

On one hand there seems to be general, excuse the pun, consensus the SANDF should be subjected to a rigorous round of retrenchment. Benefits would be a younger defence force that would take up less of the existing, and shrinking, defence budget.

On the other hand it appears the powers-that-be have not put in place exit mechanisms for those wanting, or having, to leave the uniformed civil service. This could see the ranks of the unemployed – already perilously high – swell even further and this is not wanted.

As the scenario stands, top management including Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, are going to have to put on their thinking caps speedily because the longer the delay the worse the problem becomes of older soldiers with no even remotely basic future in Civvy Street.

Suggestions have been made to use recently retired soldiers as the base of a corps to handle sentry and guard duties at military facilities and installations and possibly even national key points. This suggestion has merit and deserves investigation and implementation at the earliest possible opportunity.

It will remove the “rent-a-cop” security presently at the Armscor building which also houses Defence HQ.

Personal experience of no less than four checkpoints on the way in with surly “guards” doing their own impressions of the intimidatory stare before being allowed further. Then, on the way out, gates are opened without any checks and at one checkpoint, no guard in evidence, only a raised boom.

Older soldiers trained and presentable in military uniform – not camouflage, but the smarter step-outs - would be a far better option. Retired SA Air Force Chief, Denis Earp, once told this writer “if someone has to do guard or sentry duty, do it properly or not at all”.

His sentiment still rings true.


Defence budget allocation - will the DoD/National Treasury task team make a difference?

Over the past few years a number of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) service chiefs have pointedly warned of the dangers to come with constant under-funding of the military.

Another voice has been added to this choir – that of the South African defence industry. In a draft document currently circulating for comment, the National Defence industry Council (NDIC) refers to “a disconnect” between funding and needs. It cites, only for the landward service, a lack of close-in anti-tank/bunker weapons, air defence systems, air transportable combat and logistic vehicles and logistic vehicles, as examples of what is urgently needed if the SA Army is to execute the tasks assigned it properly.

When it comes to the airborne and maritime services the phrases used are “no serious maritime capacity”, “a lack of adequate numbers of ships to meet current and envisioned commitments” and “a lack of sealift”.

The SA Navy (SAN) is at least attempting to obtain more hulls, in the form of both inshore and offshore patrol vessels and a new hydrographic vessel but the SA Air Force (SAAF) does not appear to be making headway on replacements for its ageing airlift and maritime surveillance airframes.

Armscor last month confirmed it had received a “user requirement from the client [the SAAF]” to look further into acquiring an aircraft to replace the Falcon 900B used by 21 Squadron for VVIP transport. The defence and security acquisition agency also confirmed to defenceWeb that no user requirements had been received from the SAAF for either airlift or maritime patrol aircraft.

The C-130BZs used by 28 Squadron have passed the 50 years in service mark and the C-47TPs, although upgraded, have been flying for 20 years more than that. The use of old aircraft is not new in the world’s air forces, but the South African examples prompted Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to say she was not happy about “our people flying in such old aircraft”. She was speaking after a 35 Squadron C-47TP crashed in the Drakensberg in October 2013.

Surely the Minister must know the need for new airlift and maritime patrol platforms is essential, given continental peace support commitments and the maritime resource protection part of Operation Phakisa. Why then, does not she appear to be doing anything concrete towards supporting these acquisitions? Or is she, as has been suggested, going with the flow and happy to allow National Treasury to be the decider of who gets what rather than disbursing funds according to properly motivated needs?

The Minister has also been quiet on the 2012 (and subsequently renamed to 2014 and 2015) Defence Review, which appears to have fallen by the wayside. As a funding plan was not included with the Defence Review, it remains a paper document seeing little implementation and there is little mention of it at Ministerial level.

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