The maintenance and support of the South African Navy’s (SAN’s) frigates and submarines is becoming increasingly challenged due to budget cuts and suffers from lack of funds for support and maintenance.
This was the main thrust of the candid address by the Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, at the second Maritime Security Conference held in Simon’s Town on 12 July.
Attended by Chiefs of Navy of Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania, as well as senior military and maritime industry players, the conference attendees discussed the protection and promotion of Southern Africa’s maritime resources.
Despite the recent cutting of steel for a replacement hydrographic survey ship and three new Inshore Patrol Vessels, it would appear the situation has worsened. Acknowledging the struggling economy, Hlongwane stated that “in the absence of a clear and present military threat, the Government will find it difficult to justify spending large sums of money on defence,” with the Department of Defence having experienced “significant cuts over the last few years and most likely will face more cuts in the future.”
Hlongwane said that “the platforms acquired under the Strategic Defence Packages (four frigates and three submarines) are beginning to suffer from lack of funds for support and maintenance” and that the platforms “urgently require refits in order to keep them operational to the end of their 30 year design lives.”
The new vessels to be acquired by the SAN, while fulfilling an important function in maritime safety and security operations, “do not significantly enhance the combat power of the SAN.”
The SA Navy Chief recognised that the possession of ships and equipment alone is not the only gauge of effectiveness. “The importance of well led, well trained and confident personnel must always be factored into a navy’s ability to fight,” he said.
Support for the Chief of the Navy’s comments came from Dr Sam Gulube, Secretary for Defence. In delivering the conferences’ keynote address on the eve of the presentation of the Defence Budget Vote in Parliament on July 17, Gulube says that financial and other constraints “pose a serious challenge for the continued running of our Navy and to the rest of the armed forces.”
The Department of Defence, he said, will highlight to Parliament “the challenging times we are faced with given the current negative fiscal climate and the threat this is posing to the fulfilment of our Constitutional mandate – defence of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A full day of presentations and panel discussions was held during the conference, with topics covering the importance of the blue economy, but that it is underpinned by maritime security, without which it will not exist and thrive. The importance of maritime domain awareness and how it is a force multiplier, allowing a country to concentrate limited resources on actual threats and suspicious activities, was also emphasised.
Supporting technologies were discussed in the new era of the fourth industrial revelation (4IR), nano-satellites and big data. The importance of manufacturing, repair and overhaul as a force multiplier was also examined.
As a maritime nation, many research, development and production companies rely on the financial input of the Defence Force, with the attendees agreeing how important it was for the politicians and Government leaders to be aware of the problems that the industry faces and to educate them of the importance of the maritime economy, Operation Phakisa and maritime security. For the South African Navy, adhering to the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) is having a negative impact on the timeous delivery of crucial spares and maintenance support.
The second Maritime Security Conference was deemed to be a huge success by all attendees, but the absence of representatives from both the South African Air Force and the South African Police was noted.