Chief of the South African Navy (SAN), Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane, has told Parliament that if the Navy does not get a budget that it’s supposed to get, then it will be unable to deliver on its mandate.
Presenting to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee (JSCD) on Defence on Navy sea hours and capacity constraints to effectively utilise naval assets last Thursday, the country’s senior Sailor delivered a sober message to the Parliamentarians: if the status quo of low budget allocation remains, the Navy will be defeated.
The key performance indicator of the Navy is the number of sea hours per year. The achievement of planned targets for the number of hours at sea is, Hlongwane explained, dependent on the SAN’s budget allocation, with specific reference to the Operating Budget allocation.
Due to various capacity constraints, primarily resulting from the insufficient budget allocation, the Navy is unable to achieve the planned sea hours target due to the unavailability of naval vessels.
As explained by Hlongwane, the SAN requires a minimum of 12 000 hours (500 days) at sea per year to train sufficient personnel to keep vessels in the operating cycle and operational. The Navy, however, is only resourced for 6 000 hours at sea, planned as follows: 1 680 hours (28%) for Force Preparation and 4 320 hours (72%) for Force Employment.
Hlongwane said that these 6 000 hours are not sufficient to meet both Force Preparation and Force Employment requirements, as the Joint Operations Division annually requires 7 800 hours at sea for Force Employment alone, consisting of 2 544 hours for maritime border safeguarding (Operation Corona) and 5 256 hours for maritime security (anti-piracy Operation Copper).
The average Number of Sea Hours for the three years 2016/17 to 2018/19 was 7 294 hours, or 60.7% of the 12 000 hour annual target.
Due to sustained underfunding and resulting backlogs in vessel refits and maintenance and repair, the Navy had to adjust the planned number of hours at sea per year target from 12 000 hours to just 10 000 hours with effect from the 2019/20 financial year. As a comparison, the target for the 2013/14 financial year was 22 000 hours, with only 11 081 hours achieved.
“Should sea hours be reduced below 10 000 per year, the SA Navy will decline rapidly and be unable to meet the annual 7 800 hours Force Employment requirement,” Hlongwane warned. “Any further reduction in sea hours will impact severely on individual and team training at sea, maintaining safety at sea and the safe navigation of all SA Navy vessels.”
The full requirement to run the SAN is R6.818 billion, but it only received R3.609 billion (52.9% of what is required), of which R2.495 billion (69.1%) is allocated to Human Resources. This leaves just R1.1 billion available for the Operating budget.
The reduction in planned and achievable sea hours results in limited practical sea training, with most Navy training establishments requiring urgent (unfunded) refurbishment. Upgrade and repairs of Operational Training Simulators are also not funded.
A progressive decline in the availability of most capabilities is expected after the 2020/21 financial year, due to increasing obsolescence, insufficient refit and maintenance repair funding and skills shortages and human resource budget constraints, leading to fewer platforms available from 2020/21 to accumulate sea hours.
Should mid-life refits not be able to be funded and executed, the Navy will over the medium term lose its frigate capability, then its submarine capability, leaving its patrol capability highly restricted.
The delivery of the Project Biro Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessels and Project Hotel Hydrographic Survey Vessel from 2021/22 onwards will not lead to improved sea hours, due to them only replacing obsolete vessels, with both projects underfunded.
“If we don’t get a budget that we are supposed to get, we are unable to do what we are supposed to do,” Hlongwane said at the end of his presentation. “We are unable to (perform) our mandate as the country has instructed us to do so.”