SA-Pakistan MoU on defence: What the two countries could offer each other


Last month’s visit by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to Pakistan to improve bilateral defence ties raised several questions as to the form this co-operation might take. Pakistan’s High Commission and SA authorities would not divulge details, so defenceWeb asked military expert Helmoed Romer Heitman for more information.

Heitman noted that the two nations mooted a Joint Defence Committee, which he said should not take more than a few months to set up, and then only because of time lost in the to-and-fro of sorting out the ‘modalities’ as officials like to say.

Heitman believed SANDF officers would benefit by doing training with the Pakistan Army. “Mountain, desert and COIN operations as well as anti-terrorist operations are some of the potential opportunities, and they have a lot of peace operations experience.”

He added the Pakistan military’s professionalism might inspire SANDF officers to educate themselves more in their fields.

Regarding the politics of the BRICS partnership, he said, “We are already partners in BRICS with China, India and Russia. As to the size differential, the Pakistan military may be smaller than those of China and India, but is still so vastly bigger than ours that there is no practical difference. I think this is simply a case of looking at a military from which we can learn, and a country that might want to buy some of our equipment and potentially join development projects.”

Another advantage with working with Pakistan over, for instance, India, was “the difficulties in dealing with Indian acquisition projects: They may be larger, but the process can drag out over years and even decades,” he said.

Media reports said Mapisa-Nqakula had expressed interest in two Pakistani aircraft, the JF-17 Thunder fighter (jointly developed by China and Pakistan, with a Russian engine) and the Super Mushshak initial trainer aircraft. On the JF-17 Heitman said “I cannot see that we would have any interest in that unless we went back to a two-tier fighter force, with the Gripen as the top tier. That would not make sense for a cash-strapped air force. If we had money for another type, the logical thing to do would be either to acquire a COIN type (Super Tucano, or better simply arm the surplus PC-7 Mk IIs as an interim solution, or to acquire a small number – perhaps a dozen or so – Gripen Es as strike fighters, complementing the Cs and Ds. Any JF-17 deal would require Chinese approval and, for now, Russian approval in respect of the engines.
“The Super Mushshak would make sense for initial flight screening and the first phase of training, where a side-by-side cockpit and a low-powered aircraft make more sense than the PC-7 Mk II. There is also a similar type being developed in Brazil, which is a bit more powerful and sophisticated, so it would be a question of where we want to pitch this. In either case, we could look at this aircraft as an offset against some major SA exports to Pakistan or Brazil. The SAAF had a project for side-by-side trainers a while ago, which was dropped for reasons not known to me.”

The issue of Pakistani-Indian relations arose again, as the two countries have fought four wars since independence; have numerous border issues and the status of Kashmir remains unresolved. At the IDEAS defence exhibition in Pakistan in November last year Denel exhibited the T5-52 truck-mounted G5 howitzer, and other hardware.

Regarding possible friction from India over such a move Heitman said, “The Indians might grumble a little bit, but they had the chance with the previous version and the G6 and allowed internal party-political feuding to disrupt dealings with Denel. If you look at the two countries’ inventories, you will find that both have equipment from France, Germany and the US, so I think keeping a straight face and stressing that we are neutral would suffice to keep things calm. Bear in mind that there is not much that we could sell either of them that would, of itself, change the strategic balance. The one area in which we would have to exercise some care, is in electronics – EW and secure communications, so they can be sure we are not selling the system to the one and a countermeasure to the other.”

He added an interesting possible alternative that could prove useful to Pakistani forces. “Think also of the long-range 105 mm for operations in areas where roads are not suited to heavy SPGs or heavy gun tractors, or where it is necessary to deploy by helicopter: A Light Experimental Ordnance (LEO) gun (the 105 mm G7) with 100 rounds and charges would weigh as much as a ‘light 155′ with no ammunition, and resupply of ammunition would be much simpler.”

Heitman was asked whether there had been a follow-up on Pakistani Admiral Mohammed Zakaullah’s request for further information on the Umkhonto surface-to-air missile, currently used on SA Navy frigates. “I am not aware of any follow-up as yet. But it is a good missile at a good price, so I would hope that we would push it at the government-to-government level and not just leave it to Denel. Big deals require cabinet or even head of state input and effort.”

Heitman said he had heard that other missiles such as the A-Darter, Mokopa or Ingwe were possible exports from South Africa. “All three would make sense, however, [they are] good missiles and [there are] no Washington, Moscow or Beijing strings.”

With regard to Pakistan acquiring South African armoured vehicles like the Denel Land Systems RG series, Paramount’s or REVA’s vehicles, especially for fighting Taliban insurgents in its rocky North-West Frontier Province, Heitman told defenceWeb, “I could certainly see a market for various of the RGs as APCs and patrol vehicles, and perhaps REVA or OTT vehicles for patrol purposes, and for the Badger turret system to arm/re-arm some of their existing vehicles. Perhaps even for the Badger if Pakistan is within Denel’s market area and Finland has no objections.”