SA Navy frigate and submarine midlife upgrades on hold

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Yet another indicator of the sorry state the South African military finds itself in comes in the latest Armscor annual report where it is stated that “all activities on the midlife upgrade of the SA Navy submarines are suspended due to the imposition of severe budget cuts”.

The report was tabled in Parliament last week.

The Valour Class frigates of the maritime service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) fare only slightly better. In this regard the Armscor annual report for 2018/19 has it that the project is “currently in the concept phase”.

“The focus so far has been to conduct functional studies, which will culminate in the establishment of a functional baseline that will address obsolescence and upgrade requirements with regards to the SA Navy Frigate fleet.

“The platform functional study has been completed while the majority of combat suite studies are nearing completion. Establishment of the overall functional baseline has been delayed due to unavailability of funds to complete a combat suite functional study.

“The functional baseline is now planned to be established by the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year as funds have been made available to complete the combat suite functional study.”

The midlife upgrade of the Heroine Class submarines will, according to the Armscor report, combat obsolescence through replacement of identified sub-systems to ensure future support.

Work done to date includes feasibility studies and defining a recommended approach.

“The recommended approach has been approved by the SA Navy and resulted in initiation of the acquisition phase, with contracting planned to take place in 2020. All activities on this programme have subsequently been suspended due to the imposition of severe budget cuts, which among others have affected this programme,” the report states.

In a presentation to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence in September this year, the South African Navy said that the budget cuts that have impacted vessel refit has affected annual sea hours. It is estimated it will cost R700 million to refit a frigate and R400 million to refit a submarine.

“Three frigates and two submarines require urgent complete refits. The combined refit cost estimate for the above requirement (excluding other vessels) is R2.9 billion,” the Navy stated. However, “the following earmarked allocation is available for refit support of strategic defence package vessels (frigates and submarines): FY2019/20: R53.5 million; FY2020/21: R55.1 million; FY2021/22: R56.7 million; FY2022/23: R58.4 million.”

The Navy points out that the full medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) refit allocation does not cover the refit of either one frigate or one submarine. Only insufficient and partial maintenance and repairs can therefore be effected, impacting negatively on achievable hours at sea.

“The SA Navy is facing the following prominent capacity constraints, which are also strategic challenges: refits; the accumulated backlog in refits of frigates, submarines and other vessels – due to sustained underfunding – severely constrains the Navy from executing its core function.”

Three of the four frigates and two of the three submarines are in urgent need of complete refits. The SAS Amatola received a partial refit in 2015 but the refits on the SAS Isandlwana and SAS Spioenkop are overdue and not funded. The SAS Mendi is still fine but its refit is not funded either. Regarding the submarines, the SAS Manthatisi completed her refit in 2014. The SAS Charlotte Maxeke is currently undergoing refit but this has been delayed due to insufficient funding. The SAS Queen Modjadji I is overdue for refit and this is unfunded.

Delays add to annual cost increases. Should the refits not be able to be funded and executed, the SA Navy will over the Medium Term lose the following capabilities: frigate capability will not be available after FY2020/21; the submarine capability will not available after FY2022/23; and the patrol capability will be highly restricted after FY2019/20 pending delivery of the first Project Biro Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessel in FY2021/22

“Continuing refit delays impact negatively on future projects and availability of capabilities to meet the Joint Force Employment Requirements to conduct operations including Op Copper and Op Corona,” the Navy warned. “The number of required Hours at Sea Per Year will inevitable decline further, if no refits are done.”



The SA Navy requires a minimum of 12 000 hours/500 days at sea per year but has been allocated 10 000 from FY2019/20.