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.