Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard a litany of woes – all pertaining to the parsimonious manner the Department of Defence (DoD) is treated by National Treasury – will impact negatively on SA National Defence Force (SANDF) training, combat readiness, and operations.
The committee, one of two permanent Parliamentary ones tasked specifically with defence oversight, was given examples of likely scenarios given the continued decrease in funding for defence.
These include, on the operational side, a reduction in the number of soldiers (currently 15 companies) deployed to protect South Africa’s over 4 400 km of land border; a withdrawal from external operations (currently Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Operation Vikela in Mozambique); and either a reduction or complete cut of the current four coastal patrols a year the SA Navy (SAN) executes.
Another possible casualty on the list of tasking entrusted to the SANDF is search and rescue, in both the land and maritime environments.
“The SANDF is engaged in internal and external operations which, if the situation is not addressed, will require government to direct what this Department must do both medium and long term. With current situation in the region, the country risk losing its credibility, respect, economic influence and security along the borders and internally (sic),” the presentation to the PCDMV reads in part.
Combat readiness across the three sharp point services – SA Air Force, SA Army and SA Navy – is “exacerbated by reduced training and unavailability of ammunition, unserviceable combat vehicles, aircraft, vessels and related equipment”.
Parliamentarians were warned reductions in training, with additional training reduced and possibly not taking place, could see “unskilled personnel resulting in a risk that may lead to loss of lives”.
“Training,” the presenter told the PCDMV, “is at the core of defence and without funding nothing can be done” to the extent it “will pose a risk in executing the constitutional mandate”.
The SANDF has generally reduced formal courses across the board due to budget cuts. “This resulting in the cutting of formal courses and joint interdepartmental, agency and multi-national exercises will impact the safety of troops during deployments,” the presentation said.
The SANDF is “inadequately sustained particularly for training,” the Department of Defence (DoD) said, warning that sustainment and logistics are thinly stretched and the SANDF would be hard pressed to “go to war tomorrow” as it does not have all of the ammunition, spares, rations and other supplies needed.
The declining budget is seeing negative consequences, with the South African pledge to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force revised downward to reflect “current resource levels availability.”
Another concern raised was defence infrastructure, which is old and not being maintained due to lack of funding “and this has adverse impact on the morale and image of the SANDF giving rise to a significant maintenance backlog which impacts directly on the operational readiness of the SANDF and its ability to prepare and deploy forces.”
The maintenance backlog is another area of concern, as it affects “all major systems,” most pertinently prime mission equipment. “The maintenance backlog is composed of airframe, vessels, engine, equipment, infrastructure, facilities, components and facility services and repairs continuously deferred due to lack of funds.”
The current budget cut implies some SANDF prime mission equipment may have to be mothballed/preserved – the Gripen fleet is already grounded, for example and was in rotational storage.
The most affected sub-programmes will include helicopter, air combat, air transport capabilities, frigate, submarines and the Naval Dockyard. “As a result, these capabilities may be limited or unavailable to support force training and force employment. Support to UN missions, Operations Copper and Corona will be affected,” the DoD said.
Regaining lost capabilities will take time. “Due to the lifespan of some capabilities, they face technology obsolescence. Over a period of time the impact will not be visible to government and citizens and the decline may not receive due attention as is the case right now. However, all capabilities are systematically being paralysed and the downward spiral continues unabated.”
Summing up, the DoD stated the current limited budget meant non-implementation of the 2015 Defence Review; non-compliance with the National Security Strategy (NSS) border safeguarding requirement for 22 sub-units (companies) and the establishment of a Cyber Warfare Capability; inability to modernise and sustain prime mission equipment; deterioration of facilities; reduction of training; and inability to maintain set stock levels, resulting in high cost outsourcing.