Archive: A New Model Army


Three regular brigades, backed by Special Forces, Airborne troops and Reservists. That is the answer to the question vexing SA Army chief Lt Gen Gilbert Ramano

A New Model Army
April 2003
Three regular brigades, backed by Special Forces, Airborne troops and Reservists. That is the answer to the question vexing SA Army chief Lt Gen Gilbert Ramano, who recently told Parliament that the SA National Defence Force apparently lacked an approved force design. According to the minutes of the briefing he also told members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence (PCOD) and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) that it was also not clear how big the army or indeed the defence force should be.
The three brigades along with the back-up provided by three reserve brigades, a Special Forces unit and a mixed, new-look, regular-reserve Airborne Regiment, will also provide the forces SANDF chief General Siphiwe Nyanda seeks for peace missions. He in February told a seminar by mouth of his chief of corporate staff, Vice-Admiral Martyn Trainor, that it was the SANDF’s objective to have the capacity to deploy between four and six battalions on peacekeeping duty by next year. On paper this is easy. But in practice it will be a tall order. Despite an attempt to cure the SANDF’s personnel problems through an ambitious human resources policy, HR2010, and a new Defence Act (Act 42 of 2002), the SANDF’s very structure will make it difficult. This structure, as has been argued on these pages before, was established for administrative convenience and personal aggrandisement, not to produce combat ready units and formations.
A look at the Department of Defence’s (DoD) Annual Report shows a series of complex and bureaucratic structures. Too complex and too bureaucratic. While they need to be addressed, the exact prescription falls beyond the scope of this article and the writer’s mandate to be focussed and concise. In essence, the Ministry of Defence, along with the DoD forms a vast edifice, consisting of the headquarters staffs that comprise the SANDF on the one side and the uniformed and civilian bureaucrats of the Defence Secretariat on the other hand. This superstructure rests upon the pillars that are South Africa’s actual armed forces — the Army, Air Force, Navy and Military Health Service. What is important about this edifice-and-pillars motif is that it replicates itself at lower levels. Sticking with the architectural, it is also important to note that there is two ways of looking at the relationship between edifice and pillars. Firstly, the weight of the superstructure can determine the parameters of the pillars. Secondly, the parameters of the pillars can determine the weight of the superstructure.
In most militaries force design architects sit at DoD level and follow a top-down approach. While organisational design, unlike architecture, is a social science, and any one solution to a problem can be as “right” or “wrong” as the next, it is submitted that a top-down approach tends to lead to bloat and a situation where force design can be driven by the amount of funding available. The bottom-up approach, although not devoid of its own pitfalls — such as losing track with financial realities, tends to avoid these pitfalls by defining and meeting a need. The force structure proposed below follows the latter approach.
Assumptions make asses of men, yet no concise design can be proposed without making some.
1. “Jointness.” This bit of military jargon refers to the combatant Services working together. This trend started during World War One (1914-1918) at the highest level and has been creeping downward ever since.
2. Focus. It is taken as read that the force required is not primarily focused on the defence of the national territory against foreign invasion (no credible threat currently exists), nor internal security or support to the civil power (as policing is not a defence function and disaster relief is infrequent). The requirement therefor is for a peacekeeping force.
3. Balance. Force is a foreign policy instrument. Its threat or use is what gives diplomacy its punch. While not ideal, this is real. A military best serves the political leadership, who decide on matters of war and peace, when it makes available to them a “balanced force.” To keep it brief, a force is “balanced” when it provides decisionmakers a number of options. An infantry-based militia provides fewer options regarding the size and composition of a task force or the strategy and tactics available in its use than a more technological defence force. At a lower level, a force including air assets, artillery and armour, is again worth more than a militia. A balanced force also provides the appointed operational commander the ability to “task-organise” (tailoring) a force suitable to the mission using “organic” troops. (Organic here means troops permanently part of a force rather than drawn from elsewhere and attached.) Organic troops not required can either be detached or used in a secondary function, for example engineers or artillerists can be used as infantry if engineers or artillery troops are not required.
4. Availability. Force, like almost anything, is worthless if it is not available when required. Peace missions can last for years. During that time deployed contingents have to be “rotated” (swopped). As a “rule of thumb” contingents are deployed for fixed periods, typically six months. Therefore, for any deployed contingent, there should be another preparing for deployment and a third either resting or in reserve to replace the second contingent. In volatile situations it could also be prudent to have a further element on standby to extract the contingent deployed. This implies that for every, say, battalion deployed another two should be available in the wings. One, then, equals three. Nyanda’s four to six battalions, then, means 12 to 18 with the necessary supporting elements — from all four Services. The simplest way to meet the challenge is to divide the SANDF into a minimum of three teams or shifts to allow for continuous deployments.
5. Units of measure. Most military organigrams are triangular. For example, in the infantry, three platoons make a company, three companies and a support company a battalion, three battalions and some support elements a brigade, etc. But these vary in size between most armed forces and even within the same military. In addition, tradition dictates that some battalions be called “regiments,” some companies “squadrons” or “batteries” and some platoons “troops.” For the sake of clarity this tradition will be ignored here and approximate strengths will be assigned to them based on infantry scales. Since exact numbers can only provided by producing detailed personnel tables, it will be assumed a platoon is about 40 strong, a company 130, a battalion about 600. A platoon has four fighting vehicles and a company 14. An artillery company (battery) has eight artillery pieces.
Design factors
In addition to the above assumptions a number of other factors are also relevant:   1. Expeditionary means. A force is useless if it cannot get where it is required or support itself once there. Adequate provision must be made for logistics, long-range transport and military as well as civil engineering means. The force must be well-provided with these.
2. Budget. Unless a good argument is produced, it can be taken as unlikely that government will substantially increase the present defence budget to finance a new force design. The mooted design must therefore fit the current bill.
3. Equipment. The design must be based on current as well as planned equipment catalogues.
4. Modularity. Any force design must be simple, balanced, offer a full spectrum of capabilities, be self sustaining for at least six months, and contain depth and redundancy.
The modular brigade
Under this model the number of conventional brigade headquarters must be expanded from two to six. It is proposed that three fully staffed and fully equipped regular component headquarters and three reserve headquarters, at lesser readiness. Unlike the current brigades, all will have units and troops permanently under command. All will also be “joint,” in the sense that they will include elements from more than just one Service and all will be “expeditionary” in outlook, meaning that all personnel will be able and ready and trained to serve anywhere in Africa (or the world), all equipment will be optimised for long-range deployments and all structures will be self-supporting despite being deployed in areas with poor infrastructure. All six brigades are organised along similar lines for the sake of simplicity. Each is to be commanded by a brigadier general with a colonel as deputy commander and another colonel as chief-of-staff. In addition there will be provision for a composite (reserve and regular) airborne brigade and a Special Forces battalion (instead of the current “hollow” brigade).
Combat elements. For the sake of argument a “3+1 structure will be adopted. Each conventional brigade will include three infantry battalions of various types and a composite armoured battalion. This means each will be built around a standard mechanised, and two standard motorised infantry battalions. The fourth combatant battalion should be a composite armoured regiment composed of a squadron of main battle tanks, another squadron of armoured cars and a third squadron of anti-tank missile-bearing tank destroyers. Separate from these units and answerable directly to the brigade commander is a light, armoured, reconnaissance company and a parachute commando company. The reconnaissance company will conduct mobile long-range patrols and operational-level reconnaissance for the brigade commander, while the parachute commando company will give him a well-trained special missions capability, including long-range reconnaissance patrols, hostage rescues, raids and the like. A vital additional combat element in the regular component is a mixed aviation unit including a rotorcraft, fixed-wing and support wing. The rotorcraft wing should include Rooivalk attack helicopters as well as Oryx and A109 utility transporters. The fixed-wing wing should include Gripen and Hawk fighters as well as Hercules and Casa 212 transports. Each wing must include sufficient technical means to maintain the aircraft for the duration of the mission. The aviation unit’s support wing should include an airfield defence, air defence and air traffic control flights. The unit should also include a separate unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight. In addition, the SAAF should also provide the brigade headquarters with air staff officers and a Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) for air-ground co-ordination.
Combat support. Supporting the teeth arms of the brigade are the artillery and engineers. Required under most circumstances would be a composite artillery regiment including a towed, and a self-propelled 155mm battery (alternatively towed and truck mounted 105mm) as well as a multiple rocket launcher battery and a location and targeting battery. The brigade should also include at least an air defence battery, depending on the air threat. Operations in austere circumstances — and most parts of Africa, war-ravaged or not qualifies — places a premium on engineering and logistics. For this reason, the brigade should include a suitably reinforced engineer Field Regiment. Not directly in support of the fighting troops, but necessary for their support would be a separate engineer squadron along with a pioneer (labour) contingent.
Combat service support. To survive in the field the brigade will require a competent and enhanced logistics regiment and workshops unit. Other vital combat service support includes a signals squadron, a Provost (military police) company and a medical battalion. Also needed is an intelligence company with an electronic warfare platoon, a civil affairs platoon and a UAV sensor groundstation platoon.  
The SF and Airborne. The SF battalion will focus primarily on strategic reconnaissance. Deployments take place in small teams. The battalion will at all times have at least a company on standby for a six month deployment. This would necessitate it having at least three line companies each. A fourth (and fifth..) line company (not to be confused with the support company) could be staffed by reservists. With regard to the enhanced airborne regiment, it is suggested that a tailor-made two-battalion organisation be established. The regiment should include a reinforced regular parachute infantry battalion group (meaning it includes artillery, air defence, engineer and related troops), and a, similar, reserve parachute battalion group. In addition, it should include the current parachute training school, a logistics battalion and a Pathfinder company (to mark parachute drop zones and act as regimental reconnaissance element. As the SANDF’s “fire brigade” it is not envisaged that the Airborne Regiment will deploy as such — or for very long — hence the providing of each battalion with attachments, rather than follow the more conventional design. The regular battalion group will at all times have at least a company group on standby. For larger missions the reserve battalions will be mobilised.
Concept for use. It is envisaged that one regular and one reserve brigade be ready for a six month deployment at any one time. Where more than three infantry battalions are required, reserve units are called upon. Where two missions have to be simultaneously conducted, the reserve and the regular headquarters are utilised. The standard practice of “task organising” a force by tailoring it to the mission by adding additional units or leaving behind those not required would continue.
“None brigaded troops.”
In addition to units allocated to the brigades, units and establishments will have to be maintained to provide them additional support and reinforcement, if required. Other establishments will have as mission the support of Service and SANDF headquarters, staffs and training institutions. This includes some form of rear-area protection element, a function currently performed by the commandos.
Defence Act, Act 42 of 2002.
Department of Defence, Annual Report 2001/2002, Pretoria, 2002.
Department of Foreign Affairs, South African Participation in International Peace Missions White Paper, Pretoria, 1999.
J Eatwell, The case for a bottom-up Force Design, AAFJ, Johannesburg, December 2002/January 2003.
EA Thorn, The Air Ground Task Force, AAFJ, Johannesburg, March 2002.
EA Thorn, Reorganising the SANDF for expeditionary manoeuvre warfare in the African littoral, AAFJ, Johannesburg, November 2001.