The slippery downslope the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) finds itself on budget-wise, from personnel through to prime mission equipment and much else, is aptly summed up in a single sentence from the Department of Defence (DoD) 2020/21 annual report.
In the maritime defence programme performance status, the report notes “Most SA Navy (SAN) vessels were undergoing maintenance and repair during the reporting period”.
This, according to the DoD compilation and language editing team who worked with head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini to produce the report, explains why the maritime service of the SANDF used 62% of the planned target of 10 000 hours at sea in the period under review.
The 6 818 hours spent at sea by SAN platforms is shared between force employment (5 418) and force preparation (1 399). Converted into days at sea, a measure top military analyst Helmoed Heitman would much rather see South Africa’s senior naval officers use, platforms with the SAS prefix spent 284 days at sea in the 2020/21 financial year.
As with other SANDF programmes, the presence of COVID-19 in South Africa and implementation of a national state of disaster with strict regulations, impacted on plans the SAN had to use all the sea hours planned and budgeted for.
In this regard the report notes there was no maritime deployment to support the anti-piracy tasking Operation Copper in the Mozambique Channel. COVID-19 also saw only three coastal patrols conducted. Two of them were under the auspices of Operation Corona, the SANDF border protection tasking, and the third was an Operation Notlela one to enforce state of disaster lockdown regulations.
The “sharp end” of the SAN is its four Valour Class frigates – SAS Amatola (F145), SAS Isandlwana (F146), SAS Spioenkop (F147) and SAS Mendi (F148) – and three Heroine Class Type 209 submarines. They are SAS Manthatisi (S101), SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102) and SAS Queen Modjadji (S103).
While not combat vessels per se, two refurbished former strikecraft now serve as offshore patrol vessels with SAS Galeshewe (P1567) decommissioned to reserve status last year. The OPVs still in service are SAS Isaac Dyobha (P1565) and SAS Makhanda (P1569).
Other SAN platforms deployed operationally and for training during the year under review were the fleet replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg (A301) and the hydrographic vessel SAS Protea (A324).