I have spent affair amount of my reading time this week perusing the latest copy of the Military Balance, the flagship publication of the venerable International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The London think-tank`s 488 page tome is arguably the most reliable source of force level and capacity data available in the public domain and is packed with data on every significant military power – and may insignificant ones as well.
I had a good laugh this morning paging through the section dealing with Latin American militaries, in part because I was mulling concerns in some quarters about the military capacity of the South African National Defence Force.
The SANDF has from this year lengthened basic training from about three to roughly five months because of concerns about recent recruits` elementary military skills. Army chief Lt Gen Solly Shoke last week also expressed himself somewhat unhappy with the state of military discipline and noted many recruits were still hanging from their mother`s apron strings (he called them mommy`s boys, which is perhaps not fair on female recruits).
The structure of the Army – and of the SANDF by extension – is less than perfect. There is presently no general staff system. The structure is a bundle of stovepipes and the chain of command is too long. Logistics are a muddle and the Army`s prime mission equipment was old when I was young. The Reserve Force is severely understrength and the regular force is overstretched.
There is also negative feedback among South African senior noncommissioned officers and foreign military attachés regarding the performance of our soldiers in the field (meaning on peace duty).
Judging by his comments at a media breakfast last week Shoke is aware of these problems and has tasked his team to address these concerns. Times are tight and may remain so for some years. Meanwhile, problem areas will remain fodder for the media.
But in a sense Shoke is fortunate: here fodder is figurative. In Paraguay it is literal. I was taken aback that the country`s Army still fields cavalry divisions – a horsed cavalry divisions. The Military Balance lists three, each of two regiments. These formations are assigned to each of three field corps that otherwise include two infantry divisions and some supporting elements. I`m pleased to report there are also three regiments of armoured cavalry – equipped with some 30 Brazilian-made 1970s vintage EE-9 Cascavel armoured cars. No problem there. But Paraguay`s armour holdings certainly made me smile: five M4A3 Sherman medium tanks and 12 M3A1 Stuart light tanks.
Now there is a force modernisation problem! (And, in case you are wondering, with a full time strength of around 7600 and about 164 000 reserves, the Paraguayan Army is not exactly over strength, despite the pretentious “order of battle”.)