Refit of SA Navy frigates and submarines stalled by lack of funding


The South African Navy does not have enough funds to refit the majority of its frigates and submarines and combined with underfunding of maintenance, this has been a major contributor to the Navy not meeting its sea hour targets.

This is according to a progress report from the Department of Defence (DoD) presented at a Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) meeting on 18 August.

For the 2021/22 financial year, the SA Navy’s vessel refit as well as maintenance and repair full cost requirement of R1.470 billion is only 53.4% funded, with R786 million allocated. “This impacts negatively on the preparation of naval platforms for force preparation and force employment,” the DoD stated, adding that “the underfunding of the refit, maintenance and repair of vessels…is the major contributing factor towards the non-achievement of planned sea hours.” The Navy’s annual sea hour target is 10 000 per year, but its target has not been achieved for some time.

The operational availability and longevity of naval platforms primarily depend on them undergoing periodic scheduled refits (major overhauls) of all systems, equipment and machinery to ensure effective, efficient and economical combat readiness of the total platform.

Due to historic and current funding shortages, only one of the four frigates, SAS Amatola, was partially refitted in 2014/15 and only one of the three submarines, SAS Manthatisi, was refitted in 2013/14. Funding for the refit of the remaining three frigates (SAS Isandlwana, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi) and for the Submarine SAS Queen Modjadji 1 was not available since they became due for refits, the DoD said.

The current focus is on the completion of the refit of the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke, which remains work in progress being undertaken by the Armscor Dockyard. An outstanding amount of R189 million has been made available to ensure the completion of the current refit during the 2023/24 financial year.

“Plans to refit the remaining three frigates and submarine will be finalised based on the availability of progressive funding to enable the phased commencement of their refits. In this regard it is to be noted that the average cost estimate for a frigate refit amounts to R687 million and that of a submarine refit amounts to R660 million,” the DoD stated.

Pending the conduct of the outstanding refits, the SA Navy’s current focus is to prioritise essential maintenance and repair of the frigates SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi, the combat support ship SAS Drakensberg and the Submarine SAS Manthatisi to ensure their expedited operational availability.

In spite of a lack of assets, the SA Navy executed two Operation Corona maritime patrols off the KwaZulu-Natal coast and South Coast of the Western Cape Province respectively this year. The submarine SAS Manthatisi deployed off the KwaZulu-Natal coast from 5 to 27 May.

The Maritime Reaction Squadron (a Reaction Force Platoon, an Operational Diving Team and an Operational Boats Element) deployed in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province from 26 Apr to 25 May.