Delays in defence funding mean more costs, former Chief Defence Reserves warns


South Africa’s former senior part-time soldier maintains there are six elements inherent in a credible defence capability all increasingly under threat due to financial constraints.

Roy Andersen, until the end of May Chief Reserves of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) as a major general, told the Johannesburg wing of LAARSA (Legion of Associated Airborne RSA) the amount a government is prepared to spend on defence is an indication of the national will.

“It is a clear indication of how seriously the state takes its commitments to regional defence and how willing it is to face unexpected threats to itself or the region.

“South Africa spends less than one percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) a year on defence compared to the accepted norm of 1.5 to two percent,” he said adding: “The SANDF is at least 30% underfunded”.

From a government budgeting point, Andersen is of the opinion the current national budget is badly impacted by a lack of economic growth and recently by COVID-19. Taking competing budgetary demands and risk of a further sovereign downgrade into account does not make the picture any rosier and he sees “purposeful reconciliation” between the requirements of defence and the national budget as essential for progress.

As far as it impacts on defence capabilities, the former two-star general, whose CV also boasts notable achievements in the business sector, took examples from the Defence Review 2015 to illustrate a sad state of affairs.

“It provides a gloomy analysis of the current defence budget’s consequences.”

Excerpts he quoted to LAARSA members include: “The national defence force is in a critical state of decline, characterised by: force imbalance between capabilities, block obsolescence and unaffordability of the main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments and a lack of critical mobility”; “Left unchecked and at present funding levels this decline will severely compromise defence capabilities”; “There must be either a greater budget allocation or significantly scaled down level of ambition” and tellingly “Even with immediate intervention, it would take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability”.

“The longer neglect is perpetuated, the greater the effort, time and cost necessary to arrest the decline and restore minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa’s borders, protect its trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions, safeguard South Africa and its people and defend and protect the country against external aggression”.

Andersen is not the type to see a glass as half empty and has two short term suggestions to improve the lot of the SANDF.

He wants the force itself to arrest its decline by improving efficiencies and rationalising the “sharp end blunt end” ratio. “Expenditure should be ruthlessly prioritised and all revenue sources maximised.”

Additionally, National Treasury should fund a personnel rejuvenation programme including a “soft landing” and reskilling of exiting members and the facilitation of new (younger) intakes for the Regular and the Reserve Force.

“This could be achieved by a modest injection of say R2.5 billion in year one with marginal increases in each of the next four years.”