Modise wants larger vessels in service after Biro deliveries completed

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Defence Minister Thandi Modise said that her Department of Defence (DoD) will lobby for the acquisition of larger warships once the three multi-mission inshore patrol vessels (MMIPVs) for the SA Navy are delivered under Project Biro.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday 23 May during the defence budget vote debate, she said the new inshore patrol vessel (SAS King Sekhukhune I) is being put to good use along South Africa’s coastline. “Members will remember that we are expecting two more and then we will start trying to lobby for funds to get the ones that will go deeper, hopefully bigger, [with] more of a deterrent nature.”

SAS King Sekhukhune I was handed over to the SA Navy in May 2022 under Project Biro, which is seeing Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT) constructing three vessels. Biro was meant to have six inshore patrol vessels and six offshore patrol vessels, but due to budget constraints, the Navy settled for three inshore patrol vessels. The SAN has already performed an appreciation review to exercise an option for a fourth MMIPV, but formal approval has yet to be received.

The acquisition of the offshore patrol vessels has been deferred, but Modise’s comments indicate this situation could change in the future. However, it’s not clear where funding would come from – the Navy, for example, needs R4.2 billion for the refit of its four Valour Class Meko frigates and three Heroine Class Type 209 submarines, but National Treasury has only made R1.4 billion available to partially address the refit backlog.

Just the three MMIPVs will cost R3.8 billion, and to date R2.9 billion has been spent.

When SAS King Sekhukhune was handed over, then Chief of the South African Navy Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane said the arrival of the first MMIPV “means a lot because we’re struggling to patrol our waters. If this crew is now on board this vessel, this means that we’re going to have the presence and deterrence in patrolling our waters.”

Hlongwane added that the three new vessels will be multi-role and used for missions such as mine counter-measures, deep diving training, search and rescue, submarine torpedo recovery, humanitarian assistance and anti-pollution tasks, amongst others.

Last year Modise noted that the delivery of the first MMIPV means the pace was being picked up to renew the National Defence Force, “to renew and to be able to say we are protecting South African waters, South African sovereignty and its resources better. It will enable us to really do everything that the Navy is supposed to do for South Africa. Obviously, with the responsibility we have in the region, we probably will not keep the ship for ourselves only. We’ll probably, if Chief Joint Ops has his way, be deploying the ship for even more than we thought.”

The second and third MMIPVs are 90% and 57% complete with a revised project delivery date of February 2026 – civil unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down production at DSCT.