Budget cuts a recipe for SANDF disaster


“The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is now in a full-blown crisis,” is African Defence Review (ADR) director Darren Olivier’s curt summation of the financial treatment the force received in this week’s national budget.

He has harsh words following Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s speech in the National Assembly and the release of national expenditure estimates for government departments and entities, taking to task the executive of both the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SANDF.

“The apparent lack of care or interest from the Chief of the SANDF (General Solly Shoke) and his service chiefs or the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula), who failed to halt this decline over their terms in office has again seen the national defence force subject to a set of steep and irrational cuts in this year’s budget.

“The budget crisis is one so bad it may cause the previously unthinkable outcome of personnel going unpaid or entire categories of equipment being mothballed,” he said, adding the only way out – and hopefully forward – is a new defence review.

“It is urgently needed to address the mismatch between the SANDF’s mandate and its funding, but the Minister inexplicably refuses to even consider doing so.”

Olivier maintains the shortfall in the personnel budget “caused predominantly by National Treasury unilaterally imposing personnel cuts without any consideration for or recognition of the standing 2015 Defence Review or the SANDF’s mandate, will probably exceed R5 billion in this budget”.

“If the SANDF can’t scrounge that by raiding operational or acquisition funding, uniformed personnel may go unpaid by year-end,” he warns.

On solutions he sees “just downsizing or reducing the number of generals” as not being answers.

“Both are linked to the force structure and mandate defined and supported by Parliament, the Ministry of Defence and the President. The SANDF can’t unilaterally do so itself. The budget is too low to provide a reasonable exit mechanism for older and more expensive personnel. Even more dire is the SANDF can no longer afford to recruit new personnel via the MSDS (military skills development system), resulting in the average age profile of the SANDF’s lower tiers and the proportion transitioning to expensive long-term contracts, increasing to levels not seen since the late 1990s. It’s a vicious cycle that will destroy the SANDF’s ability to function before long.

“The impacts of budget cuts, without changes to the SANDF mandate or force structure, are devastating.

“The navy has been given no funding for refit or major maintenance of its ships and submarines, meaning it’s possible all will be unable to deploy before long. The air force acquisition budget is cut to almost nothing, which not only means it can’t buy new aircraft to replace its aged transports but even buying essential spare parts and support contracts for aircraft like Oryx, Gripen, Super Lynx, Hawk and Rooivalk is becoming impossible. There is now the real possibility it will have to retire one or more types without replacement before the year is up. The army is no better off, faced with a desperate need to replace much of its prime equipment which is obsolete and costly to operate.

“Added to this, the national defence force faces the prospect of huge additional costs as a result of Denel’s ongoing crisis and government’s clear lack of desire to rescue it. If Denel folds the SANDF will have to take on much higher maintenance costs, potentially cease operating some equipment entirely and find replacements for all weapons and sub-systems it uses that are manufactured by and supported by Denel.”

Olivier further points out budget cuts mean the end of combined services field exercises.

“Commanders will get even less insight into how badly the cuts affect combat capability and readiness.

“It’s a recipe for disaster and it’s perplexing that neither the Minister nor the Chief of the SANDF seem willing to address it with any urgency. It’s time for new leadership and a thorough rethink of what sort of defence force we as a country want within what we are willing to pay,” Olivier said.