Time for rethink on SANDF structure and operations

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The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is by and large a force based on conventional warfare with added experience of urban, rural and border protection operations.

Threats against South Africa needing a military response currently rank low on the agenda of those tasked with making the national defence force “earn” its allocation from National Treasury. This should not deter from the necessity to “repurpose” the force in the words of Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais.

Other defence and military analysts and observers have long maintained change is a necessity in the SANDF. This relates to equipment and personnel to make the force and its various components better at the specific tasking each has.

On training interesting and valuable observations come from the regimental sergeant major of the Artillery School.

He notes: “A worldwide change is underway in the development of armed forces. Information warfare capability will result in a revolutionary change in armed forces main equipment, structures, tactics and operational art”.

“The rule of thumb,” the senior non-commissioned officer in the artillery formation’s premier training facility explains, “is artillery corps training
will be conducted by the artillery and all other military training is catered for by the SA Army. This concept could change in the future”.

He continues: “Conventional war, as South African artillery knows from the border war and which artillery doctrine is based on, should be revisited to cater for different conflicts, as not every future conflict will be the same”.

“Many challenges exist and to counter questions and arguments such as budget constraints, technology gaps, struggling industry and the current pandemic is not an easy task, but need to be faced to ensure we are not left behind.”

Challenges include the high cost of developing, manufacturing and maintaining main artillery equipment. Industry challenges are exacerbated by the loss of skilled technical personnel.

Five further challenges are listed if artillery is to come to terms with the changing face of combat and engagement. These are a lack of multi-national training exercises with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) specifically mentioned; insufficient multi-skilled training in the wider South African landward force; communications security; difficulty in identifying destabilisers as they do not present as a grouped force/s and increasing use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) again compromising security.

Suggestions for discussion at as an yet not firmed up strategic artillery indaba include developing UAVs as weapons platforms, training on digital tools to reduce personnel numbers on guns resulting in smaller, but just as competent, teams and developing precision weapons and ammunition systems. These systems are envisaged for use by the wider landward force and not confined to the artillery formation.

“Artillery needs to focus and develop training that benefits artillery in the long term,” he maintains.

Marais has long been a proponent of change – for the better – in the SANDF. He previously – and still – calls for analysis on how the South African military is prepared to meet and overcome terror threats and at the same time move from conventional warfare to, among others, securing national borders and fighting insurgents.

The SANDF is a force with a small, employee heavy budget and ageing equipment. The threats faced by this conventional warfare force today are different to the threats of previous decades. Marais sees terrorism and border security as the biggest threats to South African sovereignty.

“Reassessing the mandate of the SANDF, restructuring and forming key international partnerships could be a solution to securing South Africa’s porous borders and ensuring terrorism does not spread in the Southern African region,” Marais believes.