Opinion: SA Defence Review – good to great defence capability?


A question on a lot of lips is have we managed to achieve the goal of Arresting the Decline of critical defence capabilities as expressed in the Defence Review 2015’s Planning Milestone 1? A second question is whether South Africa can recover to once again provide a Great Defence Capability?

The Defence Review 2015 provides a good set of parameters against which we can evaluate the future of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), as well as the SA Defence Industry (SADI). According to the foreword by the Minister of Defence & Military Veterans, the document maps out the direction defence will be taking over the next 20 to 30 years. The Minister also makes the bold statement that it is important that the Defence Force is not only the Defence Force that South Africa needs, but also the Defence Force that the citizens want and can be proud of.

According to the Defence Review, what South Africa needs, and the citizens would accept, is a relevant, balanced and sustainable defence force to fulfil its constitutional mandate. This constitutional mandate can be distilled into four strategic goals: defend and protect South Africa; safeguard South Africa; promote regional peace and stability; and contribute to developmental and other ordered tasks.

The ‘defence strategic trajectory’ was included in the document by the then Commander-in-Chief, the Honourable President Jacob Zuma. A 20-year defence strategy to be pursued over four Medium-Term Strategic Framework periods was proposed, based on five milestones. Detailed effort was taken by the Defence Review team to project this future through identifying deliverables, targets and the value proposition for each milestone.

Chapter 9, Paragraph 111 states that the Chief of the SANDF must provide a) A Military Strategy, inclusive of the Force Design, Force Structure, establishment table and key resource imperatives. This Force Design should be reviewed at least every five years, or as required in response to changes in the strategic environment. b) The Defence Force Long-Term Capability Strategy, indicating the level of operational capability required to meet the Defence Policy and the Military Strategy. c) The Defence Force Capital and Technology Plans, and d) The necessary operational-level military doctrine to support the Military Strategy. The renewed military doctrine will in turn lead to renewed military tactics, techniques and procedures.

The most important aspect of the Defence Review is the section addressing Achieving the Defence Strategic Trajectory provided in Chapter 9 paragraphs 103 – 110. Three strategic policy options are provided as input to government for pursuing the development of South Africa’s defence capability. These options are: Policy Option 1: Maintain the Status Quo, Policy Option 2: Implement the Defence Strategic Trajectory Independently and Policy Option 3: Implement the Defence Strategic Trajectory in Partnership.

Of the policy options presented, Option 2 is a no-go. South Africa is no longer going to have a defence capability capable of conducting major combat operations. The government backing and funding is lacking. The battle environment is changing from conventional to asymmetric warfare. Option 1 is the most likely outcome for the Defence Force. Option 1 states that if the Defence Strategic Trajectory not be pursued by way of either agreement on the trajectory, or the funding strategy thereto, the Defence Force would have to enter into an urgent redesign process. Chap 9, Para 105 supplies guidance as to the reduced force design, while Chap 9, Para 106 states that the significantly redesigned force would have to be modelled according to the following concepts for it to develop utility: a) A lighter, infantry-based landward capability focused primarily on internal operations b) An air defence capability focused primarily on light, tactical mobility c) A littoral maritime defence capability focused primarily on the protection of territorial waters and, d) A Special Forces capability focused on a limited spectrum of Special Forces operations.

In effect, Option 1 states that the SANDF is not going to achieve the goals of Planning Milestone 2. At present it seems as though a planning budget of R45 billion in 2020/21 Rand Value is the new reality for the future, with zero real growth in this value expected in the Medium to Long term of 5-10 years.

The Defence Review gives insight into a realistic future force design, and related renewed military doctrine. This future indicates that the SA defence capability is going to be that of a Special Operations Forces capability with certain Medium Combat Forces capability elements. The Special Operations Forces capability must be able to conduct joint and supported airborne, air-landed and sea-landed assault operations, with air- and sea-deployable firepower, protection and manoeuvre. Special Forces and Special Operations Forces will be supported by joint defence capabilities specifically tailored to the mission. A reduced landward combat force capability needs to be configured and maintained as a projectable, multi-roled, lighter, infantry-based landward capability with enhanced fire-power, manoeuvre and protection making it suitable for a range of contingencies. This combat force will be self supporting, having embedded armour, artillery, engineer, communications, intelligence, logistics, medical support and other requirements.

If the defence strategy can be confirmed as option 1, then the government can explore the option of harnessing the effect of assistance from strategic partners, Option 3. This would allow government to leverage a number of funding options for achieving the new force structure in the shortest possible time, e.g. availability and capability contracting through Public Private Partnerships. The standardised 40:30:30 approach (personnel:operating costs:capital expenditure) could then amend to 45:55. 45% of the budget is allocated to the defence force for personnel and facilities. The maximum personnel component of 66 000 Regulars, Reserves and Defence Civilians, preferably less than 60 000, could be applied. 55% is applied to guaranteed, fixed hour based operations based on simplified contracting mechanisms, which includes the supply of the support component for the main equipment.

We have arrived at the end of the first five year period of implementing Defence Review 2015. Maybe it is time for the Commander-in-Chief to give guidance for the future. Jim Collins (2001) in Good to Great gives some pointers.

First Who.

Let’s start by finding humble, yet ferociously dedicated leaders that have a Defence Capability passion at heart. The Commander-in-Chief needs to review the Minister, Secretary of Defence and Chief of SANDF positions.

Then What.

We need to identify and preserve core Values and core Purpose. We can then change Cultural and Operating Practices, while identifying Specific Goals and Strategies.

Extracts from the Defence Review 2015 provide good starting inputs to the future of being Great in a reduced defence capability.

What is Passion? The purpose and passion of the SANDF and SADI is to defend and protect South Africa; safeguard South Africa; promote regional peace and stability; and contribute to developmental and other ordered tasks.

What can we be Best in the World at? The SANDF and SADI can be the Best in Sub-Saharan Africa at supplying Special Operations Forces for Internal Operations, Border Safeguarding Operations, Peace Missions, Intervention Operations and Regional Assistance Operations.

What do we measure? SANDF and SADI can measure compensation for Force Employment missions.

Using the Good to Great hedgehog principle we can find the one big thing that the SANDF and the SA Defence Industry can focus on and do better than any other entity in the world.

What is the Focus: Meeting Sub-Saharan Africa Special Operations Forces Needs.

The current reduced SA Defence Industry is geared to supply products and services to meet the Special Operations Forces challenge. SA Defence Industry already provides projectable, multi-roled solutions with enhanced fire-power, manoeuvre and protection making them suitable for a range of applications.

The SA Defence Industry would need government support to make this an innovation industry of choice in the Sub-Saharan region. As a start, the government could channel back all Force Employment funds (regional and local) directly back into the Defence budget, in addition to the standard budget funding. Government and the SA defence dinsutry could put heads together to create a buy African for Africa concept and then take this aggressively to market. Word of caution; Africa buys on lowest output of capital. Where is the Defence Investment support fund that could assist in offering availability and capability contracting? Maybe use the Force Employment funds for this fund.

It is possible to recover from a position of drastic decline into something great.

Commander-in-Chief, the ball is in your court!


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.