SAN working days at sea exceed force prep ones

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The maritime defence programme of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is executed by the SA Navy (SAN) using 15 platforms ranging from built-for-purpose frigates and submarines through to a hydrographic vessel.

That’s according to the 2019/20 annual report of the Department of Defence (DoD). The report covers the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 and was tabled in Parliament in December.

The aim of the maritime defence programme is to defend and protect South Africa’s maritime zones. This is done using a surface combat and patrol capability of three frigates, a combat support vessel, two offshore patrol vessels and three inshore patrol vessels; a sub-surface combat capability of two submarines and a mine warfare capability of two vessels. These are specifically tasked with ensuring safe access to South Africa’s harbours and perform mine clearance where required.

The report, prepared under the auspices of the head of communications at the DoD, as with its predecessors gives utilisation of naval platforms in hours at sea. This, as with other aspects of the annual report, does not provide information to readily assist with any oversight function (a task of specific Parliamentary committees) or analysis by academics, researchers and students.

Leading South African military analyst and a member of Roelf Meyer’s 2012 Defence Review team, Helmoed Heitman, has long been of the opinion sea hours should be discarded and replaced by days at sea. Other defence watchers, including Darren Olivier of African Defence Review (ADR), also want more information in the annual report to be able to more effectively analyse, among others, operational efficiency of the four SA National Defence Force (SANDF) services. They point to the use of “more or less meaningless” percentages used to denote performance where there is no base indicator to measure against.

The report has it the SAN planned for 10 000 hours at sea in the 2019/20 financial year with “6 612.55 hours” achieved. This comprises 2 745.85 hours of force preparation and 3 866.6 force employment hours.

On a 24 hour period that works out to 275.5 days in total with just over 114 days utilised for preparation and 161 days of actual employment. No breakdown of which platforms, for example frigate, OPV or submarine is given, further hampering attempts at utilisation of particular platforms in, say, the Mozambique Channel anti-piracy patrols as determined by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreement.

This is executed as an Operation Copper tasking with two – duration and platforms deployed not given – undertaken during the period under review.

The SAN conducted four Operation Corona maritime coastal patrol deployments during the review period. Again, platforms used and actual time at sea is not given apart from the assertion that patrols were also in support of the Operation Phakisa initiative to deter maritime crime. The Corona component of coastal patrols is in line with one of the SANDF’s Constitutional obligations that all people in South Africa are and feel safe.

As far as force preparation is concerned, the report highlights the “execution” of Project Tshintsha (Xhosa for “modification of a value”) to mark 25 years of South African democracy in June 2019. This saw eight fleet vessels and 14 Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) boats in a fleet review in False Bay.



Another “noteworthy” force preparation event was Exercise Mosi (smoke) in November 2019. This was the first time the SAN worked with the People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army Navy and the Russian Federation Navy.