“Procurement challenges” and “lack of capacity” keep SA Navy in harbour

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That the SA Navy (SAN) needs to rebuild is borne out by the hours at sea recorded by the maritime service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in the 2022/23 financial year.

The latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual report has it the SAN “planned for 8 000 hours at sea” during the period under review. It achieved a paltry 2 770 between April 2022 and end March 2023, less than half what was envisaged.

On the positive side more sea time was spent on force employment – 1 413 hours – than force preparation, which weighed in with 157 less at 1 356 hours.

Transposed into day terms, the numbers show SAN crews spent 115 days at sea over the 365 day period of the 2022/23 financial year. Force employment accounted for 58.5 days with the balance of 56.5 going to preparation, including training.

In the 2021/22 financial year the SA Navy spent 7 614 hours at sea, out of a planned 8 000 hours. This is down from the 10 000 allocated sea hours the previous year following a reduction in 2021/22 due to “insufficient budget allocation”.

The rebuilding phase is noted in the maritime defence section of the annual report stating “the SAN ensured maintenance and repair of the surface warfare capability (frigate capability) was prioritised within the resource allocation. This enabled SAS Spioenkop (F147) to achieve mission level of capability and deploy to Mozambique on Operation Vikela (SAMIM – the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique) with effect from 3 March to 31 May 2022”.

The report notes further maintenance and repair of vessels “with the emphasis on achieving deployment status of large vessels for long-range maritime patrols” was ongoing. Hulls named are Type 209 submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102) frigates SAS Amatola (F145), SAS Isandlwana (F146) and Spioenkop (F147), and the replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg (A301) with “major repairs, upkeep and overhauls” underway.

“Persisting procurement challenges” added to “lack of capacity” at the Armscor dockyard in Simon’s Town, the annual report has it, “negatively impacted on availability of naval platforms.”

This state of affairs saw single deployments for operations Vikela and Corona with not one hull allocated to a long-range Op Copper maritime patrol mission in the Mozambique Channel. The SADC initiated and approved tasking aims to prevent piracy and crime at sea in the busy shipping lane east of the sub-continent. South Africa is the lead nation providing maritime and limited airborne platforms with Mozambican military personnel aboard whichever SAN platform is on station.