An Army to be proud of


The biggest problem facing the South African Army is “Rands and cents”, according to land service chief Lieutenant General Solly Shoke. While money may be short, the annual Exercise Young Eagle open day on Friday showed no lack of enthusiasm, innovation and discipline in the airborne community.

The Army has previously said that simulators is too expensive, and the upshot is that we still do not have force-on-force training involving a living, thinking opposing force (OPFOR) at the lower tactical level. I hope this will one day change as funding becomes available. But a welcome change already is the introduction of a formal exercise control (EXCON) structure and the deployment of mentors and coaches.

This year’s exercise is under the auspices of 43 SA Brigade, the “show me, don’t tell me” formation that is currently in the hands of Brigadier General Lawrence Smith. He noted that young platoon leaders and new company commanders tend to make the same mistakes year-after-year. This is true in every army in every age. The crucial issue is what is done about it. The current approach of mentoring and coaching is therefore commendable and turns the exercise into a true learning experience. The EXCON team includes event planners that one hopes spices up the lives of the battalion and brigade commanders.

Both features come from last year’s Southern African Development Community Exercise Golfinho and can be attributed to former chief director of joint operations Rear Admiral Phillip Schöultz, who introduced a robust observer-controller (OC) organisation with a strong OPFOR element to greatly add to the realism of the exercise.

In the (British) Royal Navy, the Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) has been a centre of excellence for Naval basic and advanced operational training since 1958. The FOST certifies crews and vessels as fit to join the operational fleet after rigorous exercises and readiness inspections. The SA Navy created an operational sea training (OST) section in 2008 to capitalise on lessons learned the year before when the frigate SAS Amatola completed the Royal Navy’s (RN) Basic Operational Sea Training (BOST), the first SA ship to do so.

The need for tough, realistic training is well know, but it s always tough turning rhetoric into action. A US Air Force study – Project Red Baron II in 1973 – showed that a pilot’s chances of survival in combat dramatically increased after he had completed 10 missions. Exercise Red Flag was created in 1975 “to offer US pilots the opportunity to fly at least 10 realistically-simulated combat missions in a safe training environment with measurable results,” the wikipedia notes.

One trusts it’s not licence to say the SA Army is working towards the same. What I saw Friday certainly supported that conclusion. We South Africans have much we can be proud of when it comes to our landward service.