Denel and SANDF advised to “thrash out” equipment issues

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One Parliament defence oversight committee – the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) – maintains it’s time for management of the national defence force to meet those running government’s defence and technology conglomerate and “thrash out concerns” over supporting the “sovereign and strategic capabilities” of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

On 16 March the JSCD heard from Denel on its ability to support the SANDF in the wake of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s February medium term budget policy statement (MTBPS).

The JSCD “noted the striking turnaround strategy” in relation to a R3.1 billion allocation for prime mission equipment (PME) procurement in a statement following the meeting. This will serve as a force multiplier in external and internal operations, “as well as repair and maintain navy defence systems to improve maritime security”.

Concerning to the defence oversight committee is “uncertainty on the ability of Denel to deliver on its mandate as the entity implements its turnaround strategy”. JSCD co-chair Cyril Xaba said the committee is “concerned” about a “seeming disjuncture” between SANDF expectations and Denel’s ability to maintain critical PME”.

“It is on this basis we agreed for an urgent meeting of the Project Control Board so that these challenges can be discussed and resolved,” Xaba is reported as saying. “The committee will urgently convene a meeting following the envisioned engagement of the Project Control Board to receive and assess the suggested solutions.”

The JSCD acknowledges consensus is not likely to be reached at the Project Control Board meeting and emphasised the need for workable solutions, especially where Denel is the PME OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

Concerns were raised, the statement has it, “on reduced spending on the SANDF given the importance of the national army”.

Denel is deemed a national security asset and mandated to support the SANDF by providing and maintaining defence equipment. “From a geopolitical perspective, the SANDF is dependent on a significant level of effort and capability from Denel to support their preparation and readiness for deployment both internally (such as during July 2021 unrest and recent KZN floods) and externally (such as in the DRC and Mozambique),” the company stated.

Denel is, for example, an OEM and/or maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) authority of numerous critical SANDF systems, ranging from the Badger infantry fighting vehicle, Casspir armoured personnel carrier, G6 Renoster self-propelled howitzer, G5 Luiperd towed howitzer, Bateleur multiple rocket launcher, Ingwe anti-armour missile, Ground-Based Air Defence System (GBADS), Oryx transport helicopter, Rooivalk attack helicopter, A-Darter air-to-air missile, Mokopa anti-tank missile, 35 mm dual purpose gun, Umkhonto IR surface-to-air missile to GI2 cannon (for Rooivalk and inshore patrol vessels).

Losing Denel capabilities means the SANDF will no longer have security of supply and be reliant on imports for equipment; be unable to hedge against the cost of foreign currency denominated purchases, capital and support; and lose the local defence components manufacturing industry, the company warned.

Although Denel said it is trying its best to support the SANDF, budget cuts are a big problem. On the aerial side, Denel maintains Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters, but “the SAAF is seriously underfunded to meet their operational demands. The SAAF places the service contracts on Denel but does not adequately fund spares and other supplies which renders it difficult to ensure airworthiness and availability of these critical platforms.”

On the landward side, “the earlier ringfencing of the SA Army G5 and G6 artillery upgrade programmes by Denel [such as Projects Muhali and Topstar] enabled the company to maintain sufficient skills required for the Artillery capability. This lean core of skills will be ramped up once any major new artillery contracts appear to be imminent.”

As for the Badger, it is awaiting the outcome of an Army Project Control Board meeting to decide on whether to continue with the project.

More positive news comes from the Denel Integrated Systems Solutions division, which has continued to meet the contracted requirements of the SA Army for development and integration of the Ground Based Air Defence System (GBADS).

However, “it should be noted though that the support of earlier systems delivered by this team, such as the SA Army’s Mobile Air Defence System (MoBADS) and SAAF’s Military Image Interpretation & Exploitation Computer System (MIIECS) are not funded.”

Denel concluded its presentation to the JSCD by saying that it if its capabilities are eroded, it will have a fundamental adverse effect on the SANDF’s ability to ensure operational readiness and execute its national security mandate.