Germany has offered SA Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBT) to replace its dated fleet of upgraded Korean War tanks.
Officers speaking on the sidelines of a recent Armour Symposium say the deal for around 132 MBT could hinge on a German company winning a bid to sell the SA National Defence Force up to 3000 lorries under a future tactical truck programme known as Project Vistula.
The current status of Vistula is unclear. The defence department`s acquisitions agency, Armscor, last September declined to select a preferred bidder for the project, thereby taking a process initiated in May 2004 back to the proverbial Square One.
At the time Armscor wrote to bidders, including Germany`s MAN and Mercedes Benz to say none of the vehicles tested fully met specifications and that it intended to “initiate a new RfO [request for offers] process in due course”. Thirteen months later this has not happened.
Brigadier Chris Gildenhuys, the General Officer Commanding the SA Army Armour Formation says his current mainstay tank, the Olifant Mk2 is a training, not operational system, as it lacks dedicated support in the form of an armoured recovery variant (ARV) or armoured bridge-layer (ABL).
The Olifant Mk2 only came into service last year after the upgrade of 26 Olifant Mk1B tanks to the new standard was approved in 2006 under the name Project Atolasa.
The Olifant is based on the British Centurion cruiser tank developed during World War Two, now sixty years ago. Production of the vehicles stopped in 1962.
Should the German offer be accepted, the SA Army could receive its first modern MBT in decades, including ARV and ALB, to equip one regular and one reserve regiment. One officer added the armour community would prefer to have sufficient tanks to equip three regiments.
The Armour Formation currently on paper includes one regular and three reserve tank regiments.
About 3500 Leopard 2s are currently serving with 16 armed forces.
Light Armoured Car
The armour community is also contemplating the acquisition of a new lightweight armoured car to replace the Eland 90 retired in 1998. The move has left the Armour Formation without a light armoured reconnaissance and rapidly air transportable multi-role armour capability.
The 27mt Rooikat armoured car is rated as a medium-weight vehicle.
The acquisition, already some years on the drawing board, has yet to gain a project name, meaning it will be a while yet before this ambition becomes a reality.
Writing in the August edition of the African Armed Forces Journal, Major Evert Jordaan said the vehicle should ideally have a “network-enabled capability with digital systems for communication as well as command-and-control; the ability to carry support troopers and/or specialist personnel such as artillery observers, forward air controllers, engineers, signallers, and intelligence officers; electric drive for more stealth; at least a 35mm automatic gun and an antitank capability in the form of a missile.”
SA Army chief, Lieutenant General Solly Shoke, who also attended the symposium, said he had higher priorities for his scarce acquisition Rand than tanks and light armour.
But the MBT offer, which would satisfy a required operational capacity registered as Project Aorta, might not involve any direct cost for SA or the SA Army if leveraged off Vistula.
[Editor’s note: Following the publication of this report, a German defence official contacted defenceWeb to ascertain the source and veracity of the detail. In line with defenceWeb`s editorial policy and general media ethical guidelines the sources were not disclosed but defenceWeb sought to assure the official that they were impeccable.
The official said he was in a position to know of defence exports to SA and he was not aware of any tank offer, and neither was German industry. He further noted that Germany`s stock of surplus Leopard 2 MBTs are now exhausted and intimated that the tank is not currently being manufactured.]