Understand before you condemn

3722
A few years ago I committed a grave error after reading a defence department annual report that stated that at the time just four Olifant Mk1B main battle tanks were in service.
I knew the SA Army had a fleet in excess of 160 of these beasts and the fact that the Armour had just four running was on the face of it proof of incompetence – or worse.
Somewhere in print I railed against this outrage that to me typified the malaise the SA National Defence Force then found itself in.
I remain ever so grateful to the Chief of Armour, Brigadier General Chris Gildenhuys for contacting me afterwards and gently explaining the actual situation to me.
The figure of four was indeed correct. But the figure was less a reflection of the total serviceable fleet than of the operating budget available. Gildenhuys patiently explained that his budget that year allowed him to have a troops of four tanks running at any given time, or twice that for six months or a squadron of 12 for three months.
Arguably, he could run a regiment of about 40 for a month, had he so chosen.
The Armour training cycle consists of individual, crew, troop and squadron training, meaning that, at the time, the Armour on average did not have to run more than four tanks at any given time; the exception being during what is now Exercise Seboka, the annual SA Army mechanised force preparation exercise, when a full squadron is usually deployed.
Gildenhuys made the point that running more than four tanks, even if the budget was available, would have been a waste of taxpayer money.
It is proverbially only the tongue that gets sharper with use. Military equipment wear out.
So where were the other tanks? Then, as now, most were in storage in various states of readiness while about a regiment`s worth was in preservation, a specialised form of storage that had the steel monsters stored at a constant temperature in a low-oxygen environment.   
         
What is the lesson here?
Firstly, military equipment is as expensive to run as to buy – and they do wear out. They should thus only be run when required for training or operations. Thus running four tanks out of 167 is a splendid economy not a sign of incompetence.
This applies equally to other military equipment, the Air Force`s Hawk and Gripen fighters, the Navy`s frigates and submarines. The Armour also has a large Rooikat fleet, the Infantry has many Ratels and – surprise, surprise; most of these are also stored. The bulk of these vehicles were anyhow never acquired for peacetime use or for the regular Army. It was bought for wartime and for use by the Reserve Force.  
It bears saying that the number in storage versus operational is also determined by the threat level against the country. Right now there is no discernable conventional threat and no need to keep the Army conventional forces at a level higher than “ticking over.”          
This is clearly being done, and done well, as could be seen at last month`s edition of Exercise Seboka. SA`s conventional force, as exercised may be lean, but they are competent and mean.
Think about it…