Troop pack replacements on the way as Armscor seeks new APCs

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Lightly modified Toyota Land Cruisers have served as the primary transport for South African Army soldiers on the border protection tasking Operation Corona for just on six years and are now due for replacement.

Progress in this regard is evident from input given by SA Army Director Force Structure Development Plan, Brigadier General Bruce Motlhoki, to what Major Kgaugelo Mmekwa of SA Army Corporate Communication reported was a stakeholder meeting with the South African defence industry (SADI) in mid-July to “foster collaboration and establish clear expectation regarding borderline patrol evaluation”. The SADI/landward force meeting was held at the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) in Pretoria.

The SA Army is the major South African National Defence Force (SANDF) contributor to Operation Corona, providing the 15 companies (sometimes referred to as “sub units”), from its regular and reserve components to maintain South Africa’s territorial integrity along its 4 800 km plus land borders with six countries.

Motlhoki is reported as telling the meeting “amid austerity measures the SA Army is mandated to have a more robust approach”. Replacing the current fleet of troop packs (as the Land Cruisers were named) with “improved vehicles” will enhance border security and safeguarding operations. “The acquisition of new personnel carriers will reduce the potential risk to national security by creating deterrence and stopping cross-border movement in order to have non-porous borders,” the one-star is quoted as saying.

“Functional evaluation” of troop packs offered to replace the Land Cruisers, which were imported from Australia in an SA Army acquisition, by the local defence industry starts on 20 October and ends on 14 November. “Different centres of excellence” will focus on command and control, firepower, mobility, “superior protection”, intelligence and sustainability with driver training concentrating on operator obstructions, tactics and off-road critical mobility.

The personnel carriers offered will be part and parcel of the landward force’s major exercise – Vuk’uhlome – at its Northern Cape Combat Training Centre (CTC) in November. Apart from being on display for close-up inspection they will reportedly also demonstrate capabilities.

When the first soft-skinned Land Cruisers, some sporting chromed wheels as an indicator of their antipodean origin, were taken into service in November 2017, a final figure of 435 vehicles was given. This would see all 15 companies deployed at any one time on border protection with 29 vehicles per company: 18 configured for troop transport, three in logistics configuration, four command and control variants and four ambulances. There is currently no indication of vehicle numbers and configurations needed.

“After a successful acquisition process the new personnel carriers will be utilised at points of entry including the Lesotho borderline, the Mozambique/Swaziland borderline [specified as Ndumo] and the Zimbabwe borderline,” Mmekwa wrote.

National Treasury has allocated nearly R1 billion to improve SANDF border security capabilities over the next three years. Major General Thembelani Xundu explained to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) earlier this year that R700 million was allocated for border safeguarding technology in 2024/5 and 2025/26.

In the medium term, troop pack vehicles will be replaced with off-the-shelf vehicles and R500 million will be spent in 2024/25 for this. The SANDF wants to replace the troop packs with armoured personnel carriers (APCs), which would serve with all 15 companies on Operation Corona duty. In January this year, Armscor issued a request for information for APCs for an indication of what new vehicles would cost, with responses ranging from R6 million to R18 million each. Armscor planned to request three vehicles for the upcoming borderline test and by the end of the year decide which is best and how many the SANDF can afford.

January’s request for information called for a 2+8 seat APC for counter-insurgency operations with variable ballistic and mine protection, including the ability to defeat an 8 kg mine. The vehicles would replace or supplement Mamba and Casspir vehicles.

In addition to new vehicles, R200 million worth of sensor technology will be acquired for Operation Corona in 2025/6 including a geographic information system (GIS) capability (R22.5 million); intelligence collection and processing capabilities (R47 million under Project Baobab); upgraded Chaka command and control system (R7.2 million); Reutech RSR 903 radars (R57 million); 60 observation posts (R16 million under Project Dominate); 16 quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (R16 million) and two long range UAVs (R24 million).