Modise charts future strategic direction for ‘terribly underfunded’ SANDF

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Given the ‘terrible’ underfunding of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise says the Department of Defence (DoD) is working on a revised level of defence ambition and a revised strategic trajectory.

Modise, who was speaking during the debate on the Defence and Military Veterans Budget Vote in Parliament on 23 May, said the strategy would be actioned under ministerial directive and the guidance of the Chief of the SANDF. It includes evaluating the implementation of the 2015 Defence Review, with an evaluation to be submitted to the Joint Crime Prevention and Security cluster before March 2024.

“The Future RSA Defence and Security Policy Concept document is taking into account the security environment constrains facing the defence function that is also being developed. The Future Military Capstone Concept will be providing the strategy to pursue our national defence and security policy,” she said.

Modise said the Chief of the SANDF’s Long-Term Capability Development Strategic Plan will direct the development path of the SANDF for the next twenty years. Work on five key areas covers nation building, safeguarding the nation and building internal stability, securing regional development by creating conditions conducive to regional security and stability, enhancing cyber resilience, and enhancing the hard power capability of the SANDF through a small but core major combat capability that is relevant and ready to meet future conflict challenges.

“I trust…that that the journey to greatness will begin to optimise security on our border, will enable us to establish a rapid reaction capability, will enable us to establish a maintenance, repair and overhaul capability to maintain the legacy systems and we will also be able to revisit the soldier’s needs to be happy and proud to be in the employ and service of South Africans,” Modise said. “Unless we do this, we will not be able to arrest the decay in the defence [force].”

The Minister told Parliament that, “we want to quickly, quickly make sure that Chief SANDF is able to come out with a rapid deployment capability that we are able to deal with air transport, that we are able to have air capabilities in place, that our maritime platforms are fixed and work. That the health systems are in place and that we find the money which we are promised to ensure that even if we do not field the 15 companies on the borders, we have enough technology to substitute because we think the porousness of our borders leads us into being, frankly, being undermined as a sovereign state, being undermined economically and this contributes to the unstableness of our economy. Because if you see your train tracks jumping fence, if you see your electricity pylons jumping fence, you do know that you have issues. But before you point at your neighbour you fix your own yard, you clean up.”

Modise said the Department of Defence is also looking at exploiting intellectual property and going back to forcing government to invest in intellectual property. “That R&D investment will stand us in good stead. It will promote young people to have more people in the defence. It will resuscitate the relationship between Denel, CSIR and our service, but it will also begin to re-emerge the defence force in this country to the levels that we want.”

With regard to Denel, she said that “we are beginning to work with other industries in other countries to try and resuscitate Denel. It is in our interest to see a vibrant defence industry. It is in our interest to lure back the skills that this country has lost.”

Budget constraints

Modise said the department received a total budget allocation of R51.1 billion for the 2023/24 financial year, a net decrease of about R500 million from the previous adjusted budget. Of the R51.1 billion, she said R30.6 billion has been set as the ceiling for the compensation of employees (COE). Due to the underfunding of the Compensation of Employees (COE) allocation, the department will most likely incur unauthorised expenditure of approximately R3 billion in the 2022/23 financial year.

Based on the actual number of feet on the ground, the SANDF is underfunded by approximately R2.6 billion, according to Modise.

Of the R51.1 billion budget allocation, R8.6 billion is earmarked for specific expenses, including R1.5 billion to Armscor; R2.8 billion for accommodation charges, leases and municipal services; and R1.5 billion for an air transport lift capability and repair and maintenance of Navy systems. R1 billion will go towards deployment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, R800 million has also been allocated for the continuation of the implementation of the exit mechanism for SANDF members, and R850 million has been allocated for the deployment of the SANDF in Mozambique.

“We are definitely, terribly underfunded due to the cost of employments,” Modise said.

While there are challenges, Modise said the SANDF continues to execute border safeguarding in five provinces in an endeavour to safeguard and maintain the integrity of the country’s borderline.

She said maritime coastal patrols were conducted during the past financial year as well.

Modise told Parliament that various SANDF force structure elements remain on continuous standby as a contingency to deter possible acts of violence and criminality and deter possible threats to critical infrastructure across the country.

“The SANDF is on continuous standby to render humanitarian aid, disaster relief and assistance of all sorts in all provinces. Examples were the KwaZulu-Natal floods and the adverse weather in Coffee Bay.”

Defence expert Dean Wingrin pointed out that on top of the normal activities expected of a military, due to the collapse of other State institutions, the SANDF is also responsible for things such as protecting power stations, cleaning polluted rivers, building bridges, policing communities, maintaining its buildings, etc.

“The SANDF has already lost scarce skills and capabilities, it is in imminent danger of losing major weapon systems (particularly the Airforce and Navy) as the feeble budget is unable to keep up with maintenance and upgrades.

“The Department of Defence has a Constitutional mandate to provide, manage, prepare and employ defence capabilities commensurate with the needs of South Africa. As Government increases the demands on the SANDF, so too does it direct a reduction in human resources and funding.

“The SANDF is about to break, unless the Govt and National Treasury urgently recognises that the DoD is not just another State department, but a unique organisation with special needs and requirements, particularly in procurement processes, staffing and funding.

“It is going to take time and a lot of money to stabilise the SANDF, even more to recover lost capabilities,” Wingrin cautioned. “The time to remedy the situation was five years ago. The next best time is now!”