Is there a lesson in Op Copper?


South Africa’s continued lead role in Operation Copper, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) counter-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel, has been extended for another year at a cost in excess of R127 million.

There are many, defenceWeb included, who feel the tasking has become a “bobby on the beat” one with a Navy OPV stationed in the waterway as a deterrent rather than an active participant in tracking down and arresting suspected pirates. On the other hand the deployment gives valuable sea-time to the crews of the converted strikecraft.

Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Bravo Mhlana, maintains the tasking is “a demanding and expensive one that is stretching the South African Navy”.

This just about sums up the situation of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in its entirety. It knows what it must and should be doing – across all four arms of service – but is hamstrung by a shortage of funding.

Training can and must remain a priority for the defence force and this is where Operation Copper is a valuable deployment for the maritime arm of service. But can its expense level be justified in terms of the drain it is on logistic support and sustainment?

Assuming a decision is taken not to renew the deployment come March next year, the first question to be asked is what, or more importantly where, will the money earmarked for Copper go? If it is to find its way into other Navy operations, fine, but if the funding is going to be lost then keep Copper going. At least it remains in the defence budget.

The same or similar can be said of Operation Corona, the border protection tasking handled largely by the landward force with support from the SA Air Force.

Currently 13 companies, termed sub-units in the parlance of the bean counters at National Treasury, are deployed to stop illegals, undesirables and smugglers of contraband from entering South Africa. That these men and women achieve the results they do is testimony not only to proper training but also a will to do the job properly.

Imagine if they had additional equipment such as high-technology electronic beam equipment and UAVs to make them more efficient.

Sadly this doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, unless the Defence Minister starts to stand up and fight for her people in the halls of power.

She has already been awarded a budget less than for the previous financial year, thanks to inflation, and also has the all-important Defence Review on her platter.

Doing more with less has been the mantra of SANDF senior personnel for more years than one cares to remember. Surely it’s time for this to change.