Are the SANDF’s operational logistics fit for purpose?

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With the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) operating in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mozambique, the issue of expeditionary logistics is pertinent. The SANDF faces a number of challenges with its logistics, especially during deployments on the continent, with its logistics problems laid bare during a recent conference.

The Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA), affiliated with Stellenbosch University and located within the Faculty of Military Science, recently conducted an online seminar focusing on expeditionary logistics and its relevance to the South African National Defence Force.

Professor Abel Esterhuyse and Dr Evert Jordaan from the Faculty of Military Science, Stellenbosch University, delivered a presentation titled “Fit for purpose? A strategic evaluation of South African operational logistics.”

The Esterhuyse and Jordaaan presentation provided an academic perspective on logistics as a strategic reality for the South African military by quoting Mike Martin from his book “How to Fight a War,” in which he stated that logistics means getting everything the soldier needs into his hands. This involves four critical guidelines:
1. Position your logistics as close as possible to the point of consumption.
2. You must be able to predict your consumption of logistics.
3. You must be able to move your logistics.
4. Make provision for the reverse flow of logistics.

These can be obtained via four logistical options:
1. Obtain in the battlefield.
2. Carry with the troops.
3. Ship to the forces.
4. Combining the options

The underlying argument highlighted the criticality of logistics for strategic effect, especially during expeditionary operations. South African strategic effect, throughout history, is predicated on the successful conduct of deterrence (maintaining strategic reserves), internal stability (prepositioning and de-centralised) and expeditionary operations (agile projection capability). The paper evaluated South Africa’s capacity and challenges to sustain expeditionary operations, particularly in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Africa as a strategic domain has limited, disconnected and un-maintained infrastructure, a challenging geography, vast distances and a culture of deconstruction and vandalism, making power projection and sustainment over distances difficult and filled with friction, the academics found.

The South African strategic reality is one of peacetime neglect, Border War logistical structures, systems disintegration and failure of maintenance (such as road/rail/air/electricity/fuel/water), de-industrialisation (armament production), institutional erosion/degeneration of corporate memory, failure in the management of strategic risk and no contingency planning.

Add to this the institutional culture of centralisation of command (approval at the highest possible level), micro-management of non-strategic issues at Military Command level, centralised logistics and a disconnect between operational doctrine and logistics (who is responsible for logistics?).

The SANDF’s Deloitte & Touche reorganisation in the late 1990s was based on a business model which led to the dismantling of the domestic command/group system that allowed for logistical prepositioning. The new system of General Support Bases (GSBs) was never optimised for logistic management which eroded the generic support functions of the SANDF by a centralised system of acquisition and procurement.

Commanders lost control over logistics as logistics was no more a function of Command and the delegations of Commanders was not streamlined between the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the SANDF.

Logistics was not a priority, leading to logisticians having no status as logistics is no more a specialised mustering after the establishment of GSBs. It is now a generic function with common posts open to any mustering.

Multiple United Nations, African Union and multinational peace support operations have inhibited the SANDF to hone and re-designing logistics for expeditionary operations and South Africa mostly relies on the UN logistic system. Insufficient logistic reserves puts pressure on acquisitions and systematic log codification problems have not been addressed.

Other points raised by Esterhuyse and Jordaan include problems with SANDF fuel supply and infrastructure maintenance, no movement on the need for forward operating or logistic bases in Africa, the high cost of bringing back military hardware or losing that equipment as written off/donated and poor contingency planning for extraction operations in high-risk missions.