Funding shortage puts the brakes on new army work dress

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As with much else in the overall SA National Defence Force (SANDF), its largest combat component suffers a funding shortage and this is affecting the new daily work dress for the men and women in the SA Army.

Major General Sean Stratford, Chief Director Force Structure, told the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on 7 June fully rolling out the new uniform for the SA Army, based on a strength of 55 173, would cost just over R3 billion while rollout to all four services would cost R3.3 billion.

Rolling out an initial set of new uniforms to all Army personnel is estimated to cost R700 million. If the Army wants to stock warehouses with uniforms so personnel can exchange them after two or three years, the cost will increase to R2.1 billion.

The new work dress replacing the long in service camouflage was officially unveiled in November at the SA Army division exercise Vuk’uhlome meaning “rise up and be armed” in Zulu at the Combat Training Centre (CTC) in the Northern Cape.

The new dress is presently in wearer trials with first users expected to be 10 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion in Mafikeng and two South African components of the United Nations (UN) mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the TIU (Tactical Intelligence Unit) and the QRF (Quick Reaction Force). Wearer trials are expected to begin in July this year and be extended to 4 and 14 SAI Battalions, concluding in the second quarter of 2024/25.

Elaborating on a possible fourth quarter financial year 2025/26 roll out, Stratford’s presentation told parliamentarians this would entail wearer trials ending in the second quarter of 2024/25 followed by collection and analysis of data in the same financial term’s third quarter. The all-important request for funds should go to the Department of Defence (DoD) Finance Division by November 2024 with funding to be available the following May enabling a start on manufacture.

Stratford’s presentation has it “total roll out was planned for July 2020 but never materialised due to lack of funding”. Additional funding to the tune of R700 million is needed for SA Army personnel to receive new dress uniform including slacks, skirts, trousers and long-sleeve ceremonial jackets.

The two-star notes the amounts required to maintain and sustain uniform “cannot be absorbed by the SA Army allocated budget”.

The current uniform has been in use since 2002. Boots wear out quickly in tropical conditions and the fabric camouflage pattern has been compromised by civilians, who use it “as a fashion cloth in clothing designs, tarnishing the image of the SA Army.” The uniform “became a commodity among hunters and military collectors as it became available for sale on Ebay, an online commercial platform,” necessitating replacement.

Stratford’s presentation added the current uniform is “sometimes uncomfortable” in semi-desert and sub-tropical regions as well as hampering movement when soldiers sweat excessively. The textile loses colour quickly and takes a long time to dry.

Further issues are many of the uniform components in stock are either too small or too big. “These uniforms were procured pre–2012, accommodating bigger build members of whom many have exited the SANDF. Current procurement is based on ‘popular’ sizes.”