Defence Review 2014 – The Focus


The Defence Review serves a triple purpose: it closes the gap between the 1998 Review and the strategic situation of today; it moves away from the business management inspired organisation and processes that have demonstrably failed; and it provides the basis for long-term planning by the Defence Force.

It must be stressed that the drafters are under no illusion that this is ‘it’: We are in an era of rapid change, economic, social, technological and strategic, and defence policy, strategy and organisation must be intellectually and physically agile, able to adapt and evolve to meet new and evolving challenges.

This Review differs from that of 1998 in that it:
• Accepts that we are part of Africa and cannot ignore regional security challenges; this Review accepts that there will be multiple, simultaneous, foreign deployments, some of them quite extended, as well as short-notice and shorter-term interventions and support missions.
• Takes into account vital interests outside our borders: Shipping routes, Maputo port, the Cahora Bassa and Grand Inga hydropower plants, the Mozambique and Namibian gas fields, Lesotho’s Highlands Water Scheme, and others.
• Is based on operational requirements likely to arise from those realities, not a simplistic division of the expected budget among the services.

In addition, of course, the Defence Force has also had to again take responsibility for border safeguarding, a task that adds considerably to its personnel requirements and that will require specialised equipment. Still looming, is the likely return of national key point protection.

On that basis the Review sets four goals: “Defend and protect South Africa”, which includes protecting national interests; “safeguard South Africa”, which includes border security, police support and information security; “promote peace and security”, which includes improved defence diplomacy and participation in peace support operations; and executing other assigned tasks and contributing to national development.

The latter may sound out of context, but the Defence Force educates, trains and develops people: these activities can be linked into national education programmes; and it buys large amounts of ordinary goods, which its units can procure in their immediate areas, boosting local economies, particularly in rural areas. Acquisition of locally developed equipment and investment in the defence industry can also be focussed to support wider industrialisation goals.

The failure of the 1998 Review to take strategic realities into account has brought a catastrophic mismatch between what government expects of the Defence Force and the funding allocated. The results are obvious: Critical capability gaps, such as the lack of airlift so clearly demonstrated by the events in Bangui in 2013, and of maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft; too few troops, leading to unsustainable rotation cycles; insufficient funding to replace 30-year old equipment; and inadequate funding for training, maintenance and spares provisioning, with the inevitable unhappy results.

The new Review is essentially based on an analysis of what is happening in Africa around us: Instability to the north of the SADC, insecurity in the DRC, piracy creeping southward, and the escalation of serious trans-border crime. It juxtaposes that with South Africa’s need for a stable and preferably prosperous environment within which to develop our economy. Add a clear government intent to play a leading political role in Africa, and South Africa cannot go on avoiding the security responsibilities that come with being a regional economic power, and it is not in our self-interest to do so.

Accepting that, it is clear that the Defence Force will continue to participate in peacekeeping, stabilisation and peace-enforcement, and that it will at times have to respond quickly to crises to prevent them spiralling out of control. It will also conduct constabulary missions such as the anti-piracy patrol in the Mozambique Channel and efforts to curb poaching and smuggling, in addition to police support, disaster aid/emergency relief operations at home and abroad and, of course, maintaining a basic deterrent and defence capability.

That mission set requires the decline of the Defence Force to be stopped and reversed, and then expanded and re-equipped. The Review encapsulates that in five “milestones”: Arresting the decline; rebalancing; ensuring the ability to meet current challenges; developing the ability to meet likely future challenges and, if strategic developments demand it, expanding to a strength able to deal with a limited war. The proposed timescales extend only up to the development of the ability to meet future challenges, which it argues can be achieved by 2028 and on a budget peaking at 2.4% of the current GDP, a percentage that will be lower if the economy grows in the interim.

On that basis the Review argues mainly for:
• Developing crisis response capability by expanding the Special Forces and developing true rapidly deployable contingency forces, initially a brigade, and all provided with the required air- and sealift capacity and supporting elements;
• Developing an effective border safeguarding capability, including airspace surveillance and protection and monitoring and protection of maritime zones by patrol vessels, aircraft and shore sensors;
• Re-equipping the forces required for sustained peace support deployments; and
• Gradually modernising the medium and heavy forces, both to provide forces for peace enforcement missions and to sustain a basic deterrent and defence capability.

As part of restructuring of the Defence Force, the Review also envisages the services reorganising into the internationally recognised formations rather than the present structure that is entirely unrelated to how the military must operate. Thus the Army will return to brigades and divisions, the Navy will group ships into operational squadrons, and the Health Service will restructure accordingly. Unfortunately the Air Force has chosen to remain out of step, with a structure that is only partly related to operational realities; specifically the decision to split the Rooivalk and Oryx attack and tactical transport helicopters when they will have to work together as an intimate team.

The Review also argues for a strong focus on professionalising the Defence Force, particularly its officers and non-commissioned officers, setting out a well-defined education, training and development concept; for returning to proven military systems, such as clearly defined command and staff functions, far greater authority, responsibility and accountability for commanders; a military disciplinary system that ensures fair and swift handling of minor transgressions; decentralised procurement, also with the aim of boosting the local economies where units are based; and more streamlined and efficient overall management.

Inevitably, bringing the Defence Force to a level of capability to meet the likely mission sets, will require both some personnel expansion (the Army, in particular, lacks the troops to meet both border and external deployment demands) and new equipment. The latter Is needed to close the most urgent capability gaps, and then to replace old equipment. The former include airlift and sealift, maritime patrol aircraft, border surveillance equipment and air defence systems; the latter will include replacement of the thirty-year old strike craft, Casspir armoured personnel carriers and Samil trucks. And there is a pressing need to begin restocking munitions and spares, the stocks of which have been run down well below safe levels.