This year is a “turning point” for the SA Navy – Lobese

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Chief of the SA Navy (SAN), Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, believes the 2023/24 financial year will be a turning point for the Navy as it makes a collective decision to stop the decline.

Lobese, at the helm of the maritime service for the past seven months, writes in the latest edition of Navy News: “The most important way in which we can return the Navy to greatness is by working together as the SAN to ensure the maintenance backlog on our ships is eradicated”.

“Our ships must return to sea and we must fulfil our duties and responsibilities at sea,” he tells those under his command adding, “We cannot be a navy with our ships remaining in harbour for years on end”.

On a positive note, in contrast to what his deputy, Rear Admiral Bubele Mhlana, told Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on the state of the maritime service, Lobese wrote: “For the first time in a long time SAS Manthatisi (S101) is back in the water and undergoing sea acceptance trials. Bravo Zulu to the Submarine Squadron, Fleet Maintenance Unit and the Armscor Dockyard who made this possible”.

“It is important for all SAN personnel to bear in mind everything they do and to ask themselves each and every day: ‘What can I do today that will help get our ships at sea?’” he urged maritime service staff across the board.

Lobese sees the 2023/24 financial period as “the turning point for the SAN”.

“This will be the year where we make a collective decision to stop the decline of our proud organisation and turn the proverbial ship around. This will require all of us, from the most junior seamen to the most senior admirals to look introspectively at how we do our work.

“Each of us must take our work seriously and strive to recapture the trust and faith of South Africans who are paying our salaries. We all remember how the SAN was considered a bastion of professionalism, dedication and patriotism a few years ago. I want our organisation to return to this greatness. I expect each of you to contribute towards making this possible,” is the exhortation from the three-star admiral who is the fifth SAN Chief since the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was established in 1994.

There was a plus for the Navy earlier this year in the form of a R1.4 billion allocation from National Treasury (NT) for the refit of one of its three Type 209 submarines and one of its four Meko A200 class frigates. To fully fund the refit of all frigates and submarines, the SAN needs R4.2 billion.

Refit work on the two vessels will be carried out between May 2023 and December 2024, followed by sea acceptance trials in early 2025. R500 million is 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.

A further plus for the SAN came in May 2022 when the first of three new inshore patrol vessels, SAS King Sekhukhune I, was handed over under Project Biro. Biro was meant to have six inshore patrol vessels and six offshore patrol vessels, but due to budget constraints, the SAN settled for three multi-mission inshore patrol vessels (MMIPVs). This week defence minister Thandi Modise said once Biro deliveries are complete she will lobby for larger offshore patrol vessels.