Ratel marks 43 years’ service as replacement slips further away


Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) this week heard there was no progress on Project Hoefyster and the contract between Armscor, Denel and the Department of Defence (DoD) for the long-delayed new infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) is “not feasible in its current form”.

Flashback to the same week 43 years ago when the South African designed and built Ratel became the first wheeled IFV to enter service in the world.

The Ratel prototype was first seen in March six years earlier with production starting in 1976.

Its baptism of fire came with the second major military operation of the then SA Defence Force (SADF) in Angola – Op Reindeer – the first being Op Savannah.

Planning for Reindeer identified three targets – Alpha “Moscow”, Bravo “Vietnam” and Charlie.

Ratels were part of the assault team as Combat Group Juliet, under the command of Commandant Frank Bestbier, was tasked to attack six bases at Chetequera, which included a SWAPO forward HQ for Western Ovamboland and supply base – the Bravo target. Intelligence believed the bases held a combined total of between 900 and 1 000 PLAN (People’s Liberation of Namibia) insurgents. The bases were defended by trenches and bunkers with weapons including recoilless guns, RPG-7s, 82 mm mortars and 14.5 mm AA guns. The attack ended with a successful withdrawal back into South Africa.

Ratels in their various configurations are today still in service with the mechanised infantry battalions of the SA Army Infantry Formation while it waits for new IFVs.  The Badger is now over four years behind schedule and given the problems State-owned Denel finds itself facing there is no firm indication of when – if ever – the landward force will take delivery of the first of 244 in nine variants.

The DDoD is concernws about the sustainability of Denel and the future of Project Hoefyster as well as other Denel projects. Secretary for Defence Sonto Kudjoe said discussions will take place with Cabinet next week.

If Hoefyster (the Badger project) goes ahead, it will be boost the SA Army partially replacing the Ratel fleet and the local defence industry. The 2020 Aerospace and Defence Masterplan has it Hoefyster would be beneficial to the defence industry if it proceeds. The Masterplan notes the delay by defence budget cuts resulted in some sub-systems becoming obsolescent and no longer available. The collapse of VR Laser is another contributing factor.

“Production of the section variant of the Badger using components on hand could begin immediately at low cost with production of other variants following as development is completed and funding made available. This would allow the Army to equip two battalions with Badger section vehicles (retaining the Ratel in other roles) and ensure survival of Denel Land Systems and Denel Vehicle Systems.”

The cost of acquiring 150 Badger-30 section vehicles would be about R6 billion over five to six years. This would give the Army an effective infantry combat vehicle for the next two to three decades at a unit cost of $2.4 million, less than any imported vehicle, and less than some basic armoured personnel carriers (e.g. Colombia paid $2.65 million for the less capable LAV and Australia is paying US$11.2 million for the similarly capable Boxer), the Masterplan notes.

Regardless of Hoefyster, the Ratel will be in service for at least the next 15 years and the Masterplan sees a case  for refurbishing, modernising and upgrading (e.g. night capability) sufficient Ratels for at least one mechanised infantry battalion and converting others to replace older armoured personnel carriers (Casspir), reducing the new vehicle requirement by several hundred.