R1.4 billion allocated for SA Navy submarine and frigate refit

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National Treasury has allocated nearly one and a half billion rand to the South African Navy for the refit of one of its three Type 209 submarines and one of its four Meko A200 class frigates.

Major General Thembelani Xundu, briefing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on 22 March, explained that the Navy is being provided with sufficient funding to refit one frigate and one submarine, with work to be carried out between May 2023 and December 2024, followed by sea acceptance trials in early 2025. R500 million has been allocated in 2023/24 for this, R441 million the following year, and R480 million in 2025/26. Work will be carried out in the Simons Town Naval Dockyard.

At present, only the frigate SAS Mendi is seaworthy, while the submarine SAS Manthathisi has just returned to the water. Mendi’s seaworthiness was prioritised for Armed Forces Day and Exercise Mosi II in February.

Armscor last month explained that the frigate SAS Amatola is currently in a Docking and Essential Defect (DED) period. SAS Spioenkop is undergoing “ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the hull and structure.” The fourth and final frigate, SAS Isandlwana, is currently undergoing ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the mast and flight decks. Armscor stated that the masts will be completed within six months. “This is part of the continuous refurbishment activities to keep the sub-systems serviceable, as the vessel will be in a perpetual maintenance phase.”

With regard to the submarines, the SAS Manthatisi has just come out of Docking and Essential Defect (DED) maintenance, and is undergoing post-maintenance trials.

The SAS Queen Modjadji is currently undergoing preservation and pre-refit planning activities, in preparation for a refit. The procurement process for services is currently underway, with a requirement received from the Navy on 6 February 2023. Armscor estimates the contracting process will take approximately 140 days.

Funding to complete the refit of the SAS Charlotte Maxeke is available and the submarine is currently “in refit process” with Armscor providing project management. “Armscor Dockyard is currently going through a procurement process to contract a local supplier for support services,” the defence materiel agency said.

The latest defence budget vote, released in February, showed that the Maritime Defence component of the SANDF is getting R4.9 billion for the 2023/24 financial year, as well as in 2024/25, and R5.2 billion in 2025/26. Of the R4.9 billion allocated for 2023/24, just R1.45 billion is going towards Maritime Combat Capability, with the remaining on logistics support, human resources, base support etc. but the majority of funds (R2.3 billion) is allocated to salaries.

The defence budget allocation states that the SA Navy will defend and protect South Africa and its maritime zone by providing three frigates, one combat support vessel (the SAS Drakensberg), two offshore patrol vessels, and three inshore patrol vessels per year as well as two submarines a year. The Navy will conduct four coastal patrols and spend 8 000 hours at sea a year.

Budget cuts mean there is no funding for the simultaneous mid-life upgrades/refits of the SA Navy’s three submarines and four frigates, with upgrades and refits being done one at a time as budget allows. According to the Department of Defence, the average cost estimate for a frigate refit is R687 million with a submarine refit costing R660 million.

Pending the outstanding refits, the SA Navy is currently focused on prioritising essential maintenance and repair of the frigates Spioenkop and Mendi, the combat support vessel SAS Drakensberg and submarine Manthatisi to ensure operational availability.

Due to limited funding, only one of four frigates (SAS Amatola) was partially refitted in 2014/15 and one of three submarines (SAS Manthatisi) was refitted in 2013/14.

For a fully functional SA National Defence Force that would be able to effectively carry out its taskings, such as border security, Xundu told Parliament that the defence force as a whole needs to be rejuvenated and re-equipped, and this would cost R41 billion over 25 years.

National Treasury has allocated R3.3 billion to the SANDF over three years for equipment upgrades, with R1 billion allocated for C-130 Hercules maintenance, R700 million for border patrol vehicles and sensors, and R1.4 billion for frigate and submarine maintenance.