Is Defence intelligence aiming to sabotage South Africa’s good military relations?


On one hand the Defence Minister is building bridges – the latest being with Pakistan – that will see personnel exchanges and technology transfers and on the other hand, almost lurking in the shadows, is Defence Intelligence with an apparently different agenda.

This was brought to light this week when it became known the SA Air Force (SAAF) is running a weapons camp at AFB Overberg with both Gripen and Hawk aircraft. Interestingly, the Luftwaffe is coming to the end of yet another intensive test period for its Taurus missiles at the same base using six Tornado jets and requests were made through official channels for at least some joint training with the South African fighters.

While it has not – and probably never will – be made official, defenceWeb has been reliably informed the request was turned down by Defence Intelligence.

Taken in the light of previous joint exercises in South Africa, involving the German air force and navy, with the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) airborne and maritime services, this decision doesn’t make sense. Added to this is the fact that South African pilots are training in Cuba and Russia, and according to the Chief of the Air Force its members have been sent to Cuba, Zimbabwe, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Bangladesh.

Making it even more illogical is Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s just completed visit to Pakistan when she entered into a memorandum of understanding that will see the South African military take part in exchange visits with their Pakistani counterparts as well take part in training and technology transfer. The MOU extends to the defence industry and one has to wonder if Defence Intelligence operatives will be scanning documentation to ensure the security of, among others, intellectual property remains “safely” in South Africa.

All round the impression given is that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. This, in a democratic country not at war, is an ominous sign of those working out of official sight and oversight attempting to exert undue control over what are normal military engagements between like-minded countries.

At the same time it should be borne in mind an SA Navy frigate is returning from an extended foreign tour of duty that saw her take part in exercises and training with both the German and Royal navies. Also that South African men and women in uniform are being taught specifics of the art of war and its many aspects in countries as far afield as Cuba and Russia. In the case of the Caribbean nation some of its military technical personnel are teaching and mentoring South African military mechanics at SANDF bases.

Defence Intelligence is also rumoured to have ruffled feathers with the SA Air Force by taking ownership of the Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) recently acquired from Denel Dynamics. In the past, the Air Force has operated UAVs.

The reasoning behind Defence Intelligence’s decision to avoid the Germans is not clear – defenceWeb has been informed the Chief of the SA Air Force avoided the German contingent when he visited AFB Overberg recently. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it is a lost opportunity for both South Africa and Germany.

It is also something that could hurt the Denel Overberg Test Range (Denel OTR), which relies on countries like Germany testing its equipment at the range. Defence Intelligence needs to start working with, not against, the SANDF, government and defence industry for the benefit of everyone.