SA Navy fails to meet sea hours target as budget cuts bite

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The South African Navy (SAN) did not reach its sea hours target for the 2020/21 financial year, with reduced funding and subsequent lack of vessel availability hindering the Navy’s ability to meet its mandate of defending and protecting South Africa.

In its Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) from the end of November 2021, the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) noted that the underfunding of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), amongst defence industry-related challenges, led to naval vessels being alongside and therefore not available for the deployment of anti-piracy operations and maritime coastal patrols along South Africa’s maritime borders.

The SA Navy did not achieve its targets for the number of coastal patrols per year (conducting three patrols against a target of four) and also failed to achieve its target of 10 000 sea hours for the year, managing to achieve only 6 818.

“The non-availability of naval platforms due to maintenance requirements results in the SA Navy not achieving its targets for coastal patrols and sea hours, thus affecting its constitutional mandate to ensure the territorial integrity of South Africa. Additional funding over the medium-term for the midlife upgraders are therefore essential,” the BRRR stated.

The Navy’s budget was R4.738 billion for 2020/21, but was reduced through a mid-year virement by R221 million.

The BRRR noted there is no funding available for the mid-life upgrades/refits of the SA Navy’s three submarines and four frigates. These vessels will have to wait until at least 2033/35 before sufficient funding becomes available for this.

Due to limited funding, 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 I was not available since they became due for refits, according to the Department of Defence (DoD). Queen Modjadji I is overdue for a refit. SAS Manthathisi is currently operational and was scheduled to undergo further scheduled maintenance and repairs in the second half of 2021. Additional funding to complete the refit of the SAS Charlotte Maxeke by the end of 2023 has been made available by the SA Navy.

SAS Spioenkop is operational while the SAS Mendi recently started sea trials after eight years of maintenance.

Pending the outstanding refits, the SA Navy’s current focus is to prioritise essential maintenance and repair of the SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi, the combat support ship SAS Drakensberg and the SAS Manthatisi.

The BRRR stated that, “Whilst the fiscal circumstances that SA is facing are well understood, it must also be appreciated that the dramatic reductions to the defence allocation over time have severely impacted the ability of the Department of Defence to meet its mandate. This impacted negatively on the SANDF’s ability to defend and protect SA and its people, but also for the Defence Secretariat to maintain sufficient departmental governance capacity.”



It noted the mismatch between the expectations placed on the Department and its funding have forced the Department of Defence from its strategic long-term focus to a short-term view in the quest to manage the shrinking defence allocation.