The Chief of the South African Army, Lt Gen Solly Shoke, says his service is rebuilding capacity lost during a misguided transformation process a decade ago.
He added that notwithstanding the “over extension” of the Army, and especially the Infantry, Engineers and Support corps in current internal and external deployments, the landward service had been able to honour “all ordered commitments in terms of peace support operations”.
The restructuring, under the auspices of an auditing firm, moved away from military practice and created a highly-stove piped South African National Defence Force in which the constituent services were stripped of a General Staff (GS) system and much of their support elements.
The auditing firm believed a flatter structure and the consolidation of support elements would gain the military efficiencies. The opposite was the result and Shoke launched a study into the matter shortly after his appointment in June 2004. This led to Vision 2020 that recommended a return to best practice and a new structure for the Army that includes a GS system, three commands tasked with land warfare, support and training duties and the creation of two field divisions and a contingency brigade.
The vision also required the Army to seek a return of its signals, ordnance and technical services corps that had been consolidated elsewhere in the SANDF.
Shoke yesterday told journalists that the Army was now “steadily building up some of the capabilities we lost during the early period of transformation, for instance in the technical, catering and explosives ordnance disposal [fields].”
Army budget manager Wimpie du Preez says the land service is currently implementing the changes, starting with the reintroduction of an Army Headquarters structure based on a GS system. Du Preez says the GS system is similar to that used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation:
- GS1 Personnel
- GS2 Tactical Intelligence & Security
- GS3 Operations
- GS4 Logistics
- GS5 Policy & Planning
- GS6 Communications
- GS7 Training & Exercises
- GS8 Budget
- GS9 Civil-Military Relations
Du Preez says this new system should be operational from 1 April next year. He says the process was off to a slow start due to the amount of work required to ensure regulatory compliance and to fine-tune frameworks. With those processes concluded “I foresee the process accelerating. We will meet our deadline.”
Shoke also said that Army training was spreading into new areas. He says instructors have received training in jungle warfare in Brazil and India while others have been introduced to the fundamentals of desert warfare in Tunisia. “We are planning for the future and in the past never imagined we would be in places like Sudan and the jungles of the Great Lakes,” Shoke added, also saying another batch of instructors “have successfully completed training in hand-to-hand combat”.
“In our centres of excellence (training institutions) the Army managed to train 14 481 [soldiers]. In terms of combat readiness training we successfully conducted Exercises Seboka [in October, for the conventional forces] and Young Eagle [in November, for the light forces]. There were remarkable improvements in the organising and execution of both these exercises.”
Shoke added that his staff are studying this year`s Basic Military Training (BMT) phase, now ongoing, to draw lessons for the future. The Army as well as its sister Services are from this year providing recruits five months of BMT, up from about three before.
SA Army chief of force preparation Major-General Vusi Masondo last year said the military leadership had become concerned about basic soldier skills such as musketry believed a longer and more intense period of BMT was needed to mould recruits, often fresh from high school, into professional young soldiers.
Another major concern remains discipline. Shoke promised to deal harshly with ill-disciplined soldiers and called on the public “to support us in this effort.” Shoke especially took exception to soldiers protesting in uniform, saying those who cannot abide by military discipline will be dismissed. “Discipline is a cornerstone of success,” Shoke said. “As citizens we have as many rights as anyone else. But considering our profession there are some limitations. Over and above that, we are all volunteers.”
Shoke also called for a review of the current dispensation that includes the uniformed services in the broader public service. “It is perhaps a mistake for the SANDF to fall under the same dispensation as the public service. If we had a different system, we would not be stuck with old troops who have no growth potential in the organisation.”
Some were being transferred to the Works Regiment where about 300 soldiers are under training and taking a hand in the maintenance of military facilities.
Further afield, the Army took part in a SA Military Assistance and Training Team (SAMATT) deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo where 143 instructors helped train a rapid deployment battalion for the Armed Forces of the DRC as part of Project Thebe. “We are also involved in training and organising the defence force of the Central African Republic,” Shoke said of Operation Vimbezela.