The sharp end of the South African Army was demonstrated with great effect on Friday during the open day of Exercise Seboka, the single largest force preparation exercise of the year.
The open day, held at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) at Lohatla in the Northern Cape, saw the SA Army put over 100 armoured vehicles into live-fire combat against a simulated enemy. The open day started off with a demonstration of soldiers’ weapons, including R4 assault rifles, RPG-7 rockets, mortars and 7.62 mm light machineguns.
It was then the turn of the vehicles to literally set the veld alight, with different variants of the Ratel firing mortars and cannon rounds at targets in the distance. Static firing by Olifant main battle tanks, G6 self-propelled artillery and Rooikat reconnaissance vehicles was followed by a dramatic simulated battle involving dozens of vehicles tearing around the battlefield and firing their weapons.
Other participants that got a chance to fire their armament included the Ratel ZT-3 armed with Ingwe anti-tank missiles and one of the most spectacular explosions of the day occurred when a mine-clearing line charge was launched by rocket and detonated, creating a fireball over a hundred metres long.
In addition to 3 054 personnel, more than 120 combat vehicles are involved in Exercise Seboka. This includes 55 Casspirs, 65 Ratels, 16 Olifants and 12 Rooikats. Dozens of support vehicles are also taking part.
Unlike last year, no helicopters were present for the operation as SA Army Chief Vusumuzi Masondo said the Army “felt that no air assets were required.” Last year Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters supported Seboka. The Rooivalk was also absent from last month’s Air Capability Demonstration, as three have been deployed with the United Nations to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another notable omission was the Oerlikon 35 mm anti-aircraft artillery units.
Seboka, which means teamwork and harmony, tests the state of combat readiness of the SANDF’s landward forces for conventional operations. To this end the exercise is usually set up as a friendly force vs opposition force encounter where certain points have to be taken and air- and bridgeheads established.
In addition to allowing officers to hone their planning, control and command skills, Seboka is also a live fire exercise with troops demonstrating various battlefield skills, from orientation through to movement onto and through designated targets.
This year’s exercise scenario centred on an intervention force under an African Union/United Nations mandate intervening in a fictitious country. The main portion of the exercise began on November 15, with observers deployed to monitor ‘enemy’ forces. Two days later forces were scheduled to move forward to an assembly area before moving out on November 18 and engaging in skirmishes. On November 19, the friendly forces are scheduled to take their main objective, concluding the exercise.
Masondo said the exercise was important because it allows the army to hone its skills and fulfil its primary task of defending the country. It is also vital for training forces prior to external peacekeeping deployments and deployments on the borders. “We find ourselves getting more and more involved in peace enforcement operations, for instance in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, Sudan,” Masondo said.
He added that Seboka was the culmination of different types of training, from artillery to tanks. In the end, all the different elements of the Army have to deploy as a single force – something Seboka is able to give them experience with.
Brigadier General C P van Schalkwyk, SA Army Force Preparation, said that Seboka demonstrates the Army’s combat readiness and its capacity to protect South Africa. He said the Army is able to carry out whatever task it receives and fulfil its mandate and that the forces deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa’s borders are doing an “excellent” job.
Participating forces for Seboka 2013 include 46 SA Brigade, 4 Artillery Regiment, 8 SA Infantry Battalion, 4 SA Infantry Battalion, 1 SA Tank Regiment, 1 Special Service Battalion, 10 Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 1 Tactical Intelligence Regiment, 2 Signal Regiment, 16 Maintenance Unit, 101 Field Workshop, 8 Medical Battalion Group and 46 Rapid Deployment Air Operations Team.