Opinion: Glimmers of hope!


In the last few months it seems as though there is some momentum growing in the discussions around South African Defence capability. The positive thing is that it seems as though the higher political echelons are starting to recognise the significance of the defence environment.

Obviously there was a trigger, good or bad. The Mozambique insurgency has highlighted issues close to home that could require action from the country’s defence capability.

Using the Commander-in-Chief as a starting point for political level discussion is best. The President has started to become visible in the defence arena. The President personally announced the new heads of arms of service. This is the start of political momentum. The president has even started to mention the potential impact of the Mozambique insurgency, as well as the good work of the SANDF during the Covid-19 actions of the last year. The door has cracked open.

Can the defence capability role players rush through while there is an opening?

The minister of defence and military veterans used the defence budget debate to highlight a five point plan. The elements of the plan are good if the answers can be presented while there is visibility on the sector.

What are the timescales for solutions?

The chair of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) and opposition MP, Hon J (Kobus) Marais, are providing good oversight and visibility of the defence capability challenges. Both would be good allies for the minister. Maybe the minister can rise to the challenge and align all political thoughts for the good of the country.

The political window of opportunity and need is now, not in 6-12 months. Maybe the opposition parties can also assist the ruling party to raise visibility on the defence sector across the board. Think of finance, public enterprises, and the trade, industry and competition portfolios in addition to the defence portfolio to raise awareness of the impact of defence. Defence is not a local government challenge so maybe bury politicking in this area for a while.

The PCDMV shows that it is possible to align political will. Can they raise the pressure? No pressure, no flow.

The Secretary for Defence has also aligned to the minister as highlighted in the defenceWeb webinar on the Aerospace and Defence Masterplan. The Department is working to address budget challenges and is looking at personnel cost savings; a new departmental policy position on an affordable level of defence ambition cognisant of our funding challenges; a new Blue Print Force Design; and engagements with Armscor on the relationships that must be developed in support of the level of defence ambition and the affordable force design that supports it.

What are the timescales for outputs?

The outgoing CSANDF has also contributed to getting the ball rolling. General Shoke said in the presence of the Commander-in-Chief that the SANDF needs to be well funded to meet security threats, particularly the insurgency across the border in Mozambique.

As with the electricity crisis, defence capability interventions do take time to materialise. A lot can still be achieved within the medium term, 60 months. The Aerospace and Defence Masterplan is a start, but a lot more can be achieved.

The Chief of the SA Army has been in the position for a reasonable amount of time. There are rumblings about a modern fighting brigade. It would be good if all arms of service in the SANDF could air thoughts of a future force design that is fit for purpose within budget. The SANDF has good strategic thinkers. The SANDF needs to take the lead with the Blue Print Force Design.

SANDF, the gap is now. Determine your future!

The minister has challenged industry. The minister is looking for a pragmatic, affordable and focused response from industry. Armscor is tasked with this in the five point plan, but nothing stops private industry to get their hands dirty and rise to the call. The defence sector has a lot to offer the economy of South Africa. The President listens to investment proposals. Where are the high visibility defence related solutions in the president’s Project Vulindlela initiative? Let’s tell the President and Treasury how the SA Defence Industry can impact South Africa. Sorry to say, but don’t rely on Denel at the moment. Where are the entrepreneurial proposals? The President and minister are waiting to hear your pitch.

As can be seen from above, there are a lot of moving parts that have to align. There also needs to be a leader driving forward.

Can the defence capability role players grab the opportunity that is convenient, fit and comes at the right time?

The president has just taken action in the electricity crisis, and provided a minister direct guidance. Maybe with a bit of groundswell from the defence capability role players, the president can make a leading stand in the defence arena.

Written by James Kerr, Orion Consulting CC, which provides Market Entry Strategy and Bid & Proposal services to the Aerospace & Defence related industry and assists international SME mission system product suppliers to gain traction in South Africa. Kerr has assisted various companies to enter, or expand footprint in, the defence industry with air, land and naval systems. He also served as a navigator, and completed an engineering degree, while in the South African Air Force for 13 years.