SA Navy frigate and submarine refits less than half funded

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The cost of the refits for the South African Navy’s blue water platforms – its Valour Class Meko frigates and Heroine Class Type 209 submarines – amounts to R4.2 billion, but National Treasury has only made R1.4 billion available to partially address the refit backlog.

This is according to SA Navy (SAN) Deputy Chief, Rear Admiral Bubele Mhlana, who updated Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) last week on the Navy’s submarine and frigate refit plans as well as the status of Projects Hotel and Biro.

The frigate SAS Amatola was partially refitted in 2015 but no further work has commenced. No refits have been done for the SAS Isandlwana, SAS Spioenkop, and SAS Mendi, even though first refits were due in 2012/13 and second refits in 2018/19. The frigates were due to have four refits and a mid-life update during their service lives before being decommissioned in 2036 and 2037.

All four frigates have a number of operational defects, with SAS Spioenkop having 18 defects covering its shore supply system, oil water separator, ammunition hoists etc. SAS Amatola only has one defect, with its shaft key lock.

As for the submarine fleet, SAS Manthatisi was partially refitted in 2014, with a mid-life update scheduled for 2022 but not commenced. The refit of the SAS Charlotte Maxeke in 2015 was not completed while the SAS Queen Modjadji I’s 2016 refit was not commenced. The submarines were due for three refits and mid-life updates before being decommissioned in 2038 (SAS Manthatisi), 2039 (SAS Charlotte Maxeke), and 2040 (SAS Queen Modjadji I).

SAS Manthatisi is currently operational while SAS Charlotte Maxeke should become operational in April 2025 and SAS Queen Modjadji operational that same month. Only the frigate SAS Mendi is seaworthy after this was prioritised for February’s Armed Forces Day.

The Navy’s presentation revealed that Project Syne, for the mid-life update of the frigates, would cost an estimated R5 billion while Project Napoleon, for the submarine upgrades, would cost R3.8 billion.

Following the R1.4 billion allocation by National Treasury for refits, the Navy is refitting one submarine and one frigate. The submarine refit should be completed in December 2024 and the frigate that same month, with sea trials taking place in the first three months of 2025.

R500 million has been allocated in 2023/24 for this, R441 million the following year, and R480 million in 2025/26. Work will be carried out in the Simons Town Naval Dockyard.

In February, Armscor explained that the SAS Amatola was currently in a Docking and Essential Defect (DED) period. SAS Spioenkop was undergoing “ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the hull and structure.” SAS Isandlwana was undergoing ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the mast and flight decks.

The SAS Queen Modjadji is currently undergoing preservation and pre-refit planning activities, in preparation for a refit. Funding to complete the refit of the SAS Charlotte Maxeke is available and the submarine is currently “in refit process” with Armscor providing project management.

National Treasury has allocated R3.3 billion to the SANDF over three years for equipment upgrades, with R1 billion allocated for C-130 Hercules maintenance, R700 million for border patrol vehicles and sensors, and R1.4 billion for frigate and submarine maintenance.