SANDF getting more money for border security; will buy vehicles and sensors

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National Treasury is giving a boost to the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) border security capabilities in the form of a R700 million injection over the next three years for the procurement of vehicles and surveillance technology.

Major General Thembelani Xundu on 22 March explained to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) that R700 million has been allocated for border safeguarding technology in 2024/5 and 2025/26.

In the medium term, the ‘troop pack’ vehicles (at present Toyota Land Cruisers) will be replaced with off-the-shelf vehicles and R500 million will be spent in 2024/25 for this. The SANDF wants to replace the troop packs with armoured personnel carriers (APCs), which would serve with all 15 companies on Operation Corona border patrol duty. At the beginning of the year, Armscor issued a request for information for APCs to get an idea of what new vehicles would cost, with responses ranging from R6 million to R18 million per vehicle. Armscor plans to request three vehicles for a two-month long borderline test and by the end of the year be able to decide which vehicle is best, and how many the SANDF can afford.

With a R500 million budget, the SANDF could afford 83 APCs at R6 million each; 42 APCs (enough for two companies) at R12 million each, or 28 APCs (enough for one company) at a unit cost of R18 million. The SANDF would like to acquire APCs for all 15 Operation Corona units over the next several years, but this would cost R5.9 billion and there is insufficient funding for this.

Xundu gave further details on the R200 million worth of sensor technology being acquired for Operation Corona in 2025/6, and this includes a Geographic Information System (GIS) capability (R22.5 million); intelligence collection and processing capabilities (R47 million under Project Baobab); upgraded Chaka command and control system (R7.2 million); Reutech RSR 903 radars (R57 million); 60 observation posts (R16 million under Project Dominate); 16 quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (R16 million); and two long range UAVs (R24 million).

The SANDF would like approximately R800 million for a new command and control system, surveillance cameras, artillery observation capability, and air defence radars, but funding for this is unlikely. The Navy would like an additional R6 billion for coastal radars and UAVs for border security, the refit of vessels and the expansion of the Maritime Reaction Squadron as well as 35 and 76 mm ammunition, Exocet missiles and torpedoes, but again funding is unlikely to materialise.

Meanwhile, the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) is getting funds to procure ambulances and deployed medical equipment to ensure military health support along the borderline. Over R180 million is being provided by National Treasury between 2023 and 2025 for ambulances, X-ray machines, and deployable medical equipment.

For fully effective border safeguarding, Xundu said 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, with R1 billion allocated in 2023/24 for C-130 Hercules maintenance, and R1.4 billion allocated over the next three years for the maintenance and repair of navy ships and submarines.