New military equipment a necessity but acquisition could be problematic


As the Seriti Commission meanders on to what appears to be an uneventful finish, those in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), Armscor and Department of Defence (DoD) tasked with acquisitions face the future with at least a certain amount of uncertainty.

The South African military machine is in dire need of more equipment if it is to meet the obligations set out for it by its Commander-in-Chief.

In one instance, the acquisition process has commenced. This is for a replacement hydrographic vessel, a vital cog in maritime protection because, as has so often been stated “you cannot control that which you do not patrol” and the converse of knowing what and where to patrol, in terms of maritime resources, is just as important.

Also on the maritime front and as important in terms of the Presidential vision for growth of the ocean economy is the acquisition of both inshore and offshore patrol vessels for the Navy as well as aircraft equipped for maritime patrol and surveillance.

Currently revamped strike craft are being used as offshore patrol vessels and Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, earlier this year indicated the maritime arm of service’s capital acquisition process was on track. This certainly applies to new tugs, presently being built, and the SAS Protea replacement but here has been no indication from either the Navy or Armscor on progress of any sort with acquisition of new patrol vessels, whether in- or offshore.

The SA Air Force (SAAF) also comes very much into the maritime acquisition sphere as regards replacements for the ageing C-47TPs it currently uses for maritime patrol work. Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has publicly stated she is “unhappy about her people having to fly in aircraft than are more than 60 years old”.

The same can almost apply to the air force’s C-130BZ transport aircraft. The majority of these Hercs have been in service for over 50 years and simply have to be replaced, sooner rather than later.

So there is major capital expenditure looming large for the SANDF but the acquisitions seem set to become riddled with pitfalls, unless the Seriti Commission’s report suggests ways and means of at least minimising the opportunities for underhandedness during negotiations. Given its performance to date this doesn’t seem likely.

One of the unintended consequences of the Seriti Commission is it has created the negative perception that where there is defence procurement, there is corruption. Many members of the public are now biased against defence acquisition, no matter how vital it may be (such as for border protection, peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy patrols).

Together with a lack of money and the slow pace of the 2014 Defence Review, this is yet another hurdle military leaders need to overcome in order to acquire the equipment South Africa desperately needs.