Rail will be major transport mode for Ex Vuk’uhlome


A successful move back to long distance rail transport by the SA Army last year will be repeated next month (September) ahead of Exercise Vuk’uhlome.

This was confirmed to defenceWeb today (Friday) hours ahead of what was billed as “a massive project to move prime mission equipment (PME)” by Lieutenant Colonel Lisa Sipriano, Acting SSO, Army Corporate Communication.

Today’s move would have seen, according to a statement, PME including SAMIL 50s and trailers, Unimogs and “field stoves”, readied for travel from the Free State to the Northern Cape, where Exercise Vuk’uhlome will take place. The SA Army statement has it: “The over-arching aim of the project is to ensure an uninterrupted and a successful delivery of the annual flagship exercise of the South African landward force scheduled to take place at the CTC (Combat Training Centre) Lohathla over the period October to November 2023”.

Last year, ahead of Armed Forces Day/Week in Mbombela, the Army took to rail moving Ratels, Rooikat armoured cars and other equipment from the Bulkop siding outside CTC to Mpumalanga. The mass rail move took 58 hours over an undisclosed route and distance.

Sipriano told defenceWeb rail would be the major transport mode for defence materiel, such as PME and logistic support to reach and depart the training area where the second division level exercise will take place.

More than 100 vehicles are expected to be moved to Lohathla for Exercise Vuk’uhlome 2023.

Respected defence and military analyst Helmoed Heitman on being told of last year’s rail move called it “at the least – refreshing”.

During his stint on Roelf Meyer’s 2012 Defence Review team he recalls finding one of two sets of railcars for heavy equipment, such as tanks, scrapped and the remaining set at risk of the same fate.

“To me rail is an invaluable force multiplier when you have it – you can move vehicles, equipment, supplies and personnel smoothly and quickly over long distances with no wear and tear on either vehicles or people. This is always assuming no one blows up the line, but the Germans managed to do it in Russia pretty much to the end despite partisans and air attack.

“There is an old saying in the loggie world that if you need to move 10 000 tons, you need one small ship, ten trains or a thousand ten-ton trucks,” is how he summarises the value of rail.

Another plus pointed out by a retired army officer is “keeping heavy vehicles off major – and even secondary – roads contributes to some extent in preventing more potholes”.

Vuk’uhlome last year was the first ever SA Army division level exercise since the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was established in 1994 with 13 000 soldiers from 45 units taking part. This year’s edition will test the capability and status of readiness of the landward force, supported by the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), Special Forces, Military Police and Legal Service divisions as well as the SA Police Service (SAPS), with defence industry participation as well.