South African Infanteers looking to the future

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“South Africa the America of Africa” these are the words of the well known journalist and military analyst, Helmoed-Römer Heitman. With these words  Heitman started his presentation at the SA Army Infantry Formation presented a symposium held at the CSIR this week. The theme of the symposium was “equipping the Infanteer for the future”.

The Infantry Officers Commanding we briefed on the African situation by the knowledgeable speakers, such as Heitman, Prof Mike Hough from the University of Pretoria and Dr Martin Rupiya from the African Public Policy and Research Institute.

All these speakers had one thing in common and that is that war affects the economy and civilians. This leads to the mass movement of people, something that South Africa is presently experiencing and this needs to be addressed by the increase in border safeguarding.

An interesting observation from Dr Rupiya was that civilians normally react much quicker to the war/unrest than the military. The establishment of a war-economy is done very quickly even if it means mounting an automatic rifle on the back of a Nissan bakkie. This emphasised the perception that all military power is relative, you can have the best equipment, but there may not be any roads or air strip and therefore the soldiers cannot move.

All the speakers mentioned the huge influence of cyber-war and the unrest in Egypt and Libya were used as models, where the rebel movements were mobilised via cellphone and face book.

In Africa the face of the conflict has also changed from a battle between different military powers to the civil unrest leading to the over throw of the local government. Civil unrest is enhanced by unemployment and other underlying factors of revolution such as corruption, mismanagement, treatment of minorities, police brutality etc. In the next few years the battle over resources such as water and energy (wood) and food may increase and lead to more civil unrests.

The present day war has taken another interesting turn in the capture of innocent civilians, such as tourist, contract workers, boats etc as hostages and the increase of piracy. In this regard the incidence of piracy has moved down to the Mozambique coast and therefore approaching our sea-borders.

With this background, the question was posed, how do we equip the Infanteer for the future? In order to answer this question these speakers mentioned several aspects that need to be taken into consideration in the training and equipping of the Infanteers. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo there is 11 000km of waterways and can the Infanteer navigate on the water, live on and from the river on the other side of the coin there is Sudan, which is desert areas.

The terrain where the battles will take place is mostly built up areas and attacks will come from soldiers who are well trained, militias or rebel forces, civilians and even child soldiers. Soldiers needs to be trained in air assault, to operate in both desert, and on water, jungles, mountains, built up areas and in a country where a strange language is spoken.

Additional to these aspects the Officers Commanding were informed by Phillip Roach and Theo van Dyk, both from the CSIR on improvised explosive devises, ranging from booby traps, innocent looking containers, common explosives etc which causes major damage not only to humans, but also vehicles, buildings and even aircraft.

With all this in mind various defence industry companies exhibited their latest equipment and vehicles. On 7 July 2011 the members had the opportunity to shoot with the latest weapons and they were also treated to a demonstration of the impact of improvised explosive devices and the evening they tested various night sight and associated equipment.

The Infanteer of the future must be multi-skilled, equipped for various terrains, able to work with civilians, train and operate with the police and even to be skilled in cyber-warfare. Truly a tall-order, but one for which the Infantry can prepare and aim to obtain the correct equipment.