Mini-symposium hears two decades plus needed to develop an effective defence force


The current state of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) came under the spotlight at a Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) mini-symposium which showed deficiencies in any number of areas ranging from rank inflation to ageing and even obsolete equipment.

Speakers were Professor Lindy Heinecken of the University of Stellenbosch and previously deputy director of the Centre for Military Studies at the SA Military Academy; Dr Moses Khanyile, National Defence Industry Council (NDIC) strategy project leader and defence analyst, Helmoed Heitman, who was part of the Roelf Meyer-led team driving the 2012 Defence Review.

The last Defence Review was implemented by previous Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and inherited by her successor Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Its current status is “work underway” on addressing milestone one of the now 2015 Defence Review – stopping the decline in the SANDF.

By way of introduction a number of points in terms of South Africa’s long term security and interests were noted. These included an evolving strategic situation; South Africa’s interests and role on the continent; threats existing, looming, potential and possible and the local defence industry, its role and future prospects.

Those present heard developing an effective defence force after an extended period of neglect, is an undertaking of two to three decades. That is in part because of time required to develop doctrines and senior officers and a factor of the rate at which junior ranks can be trained and equipment absorbed.

“The national defence force has been under-funded since 1990 and over-stretched operationally for much of the time since the 2000s and will not be cheap or quick to resuscitate. The defence industry, if allowed to implode, will be difficult or impossible to recreate, making South Africa largely dependent on foreign equipment,” the symposium heard.

The national requirement, as defined in the Constitution, is for a balanced defence force with appropriate and adequate capabilities at appropriate readiness levels, complemented by efficient intelligence services to provide early warning of threats and risks and specialised police elements to counter internal terrorism.

It was pointed out that “other real and pressing demands on government funds” make it necessary to restructure SANDF tasks.

Primary missions are listed as border protection, key infrastructure protection, protection of “vital external interests” and national interests as well as deterrence and defence.

This, the mini-symposium discussion points has it, includes discouraging military adventures against South Africa or in the immediate region and preventing interference with maritime trade. Threats range from terrorism through spill-over from insurgency in an adjacent country, to a cross-border guerrilla threat or deliberate interference with maritime trade and finally a conventional military threat.

“While the last two are least likely, they would be the most dangerous and can arise in far less time than it will take to develop capabilities to counter them.”

On protection of national interests, the discussion points note it includes participation in peace missions and needs five basics.

These are Special Forces for reconnaissance ahead of deployments and immediate response tasks with rapid deployment forces to contain a crisis; infantry with “some armour and artillery” for longer term deployment as well as reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, UAVs and communications intelligence systems.

While there is no immediate threat of conventional attack, the forces needed to defeat one require two decades or longer to develop effectively. This means there is a need to retain a core conventional force as a basis for expansion.

“This force can provide medium and heavy force elements for peace enforcement operations. The core could comprise forces required for the five missions stated.”

Additionally needed are an effective submarine force for strategic reconnaissance and surveillance and as a ‘denial of entry’ deterrent; an effective fighter force to interdict movement of enemy forces in theatre; and a strong standing mechanised brigade (armour, mechanised infantry and artillery) plus reserve forces to set a threshold for any military adventure into the region, raising costs and logistic difficulties and to serve as the core for expansion when required.