The Army is fashioning a vision for the next 15 years and its chief has asked the public to contribute. Lt General Solly Shoke was speaking at the De Brug training area just after an airborne exercise last week.
Although he did not spell out what this vision was, a paper presented on his behalf in September at an Armoured Corps symposium explained his thinking. “With my appointment as Chief of the Army in July 2004 it became clear that the SA Army had no overarching futuristic frame of reference in place to guide short and medium-term decisions and actions,” Shoke said. “This state of affairs resulted in ‘ad hocery`, inconsistency and non-alignment in our endeavours to achieve o
jbjectives which in themselves were incongruent and haphazard.” In order to address the problem, Shoke appointed a team to formulate an SA Army vision for the next 15 years in September last year. The result was the launch of “SA Army Strategy 2020” with a workshop in January. The vision takes into account the mandate of the army, which is to, jointly with the Air Force Navy and Military Health Service, defend and protect South Africa, its territorial integrity and its people – in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law.
To realise the vision, Shoke said he will continue to promote professionalism “as an all-inclusive concept at all levels” to ensure that South Africa, as a democratic country, has an army to be proud of. ”Members of the army profession have a special responsibility to fulfil their function competently and impartial for the benefit of society. As professional members they are governed by a code of ethics that establishes standards of conduct while defining and regulating their work. This code of ethics is enforced by the members themselves and contains values that are widely accepted as legitimate by society at large.” Shoke also emphasised the importance of military bearing, saying that although all soldiers are civil servants, members of the military adhere to a warrior ethos of “soldiership” as opposed to a bureaucratic civil servant ethos. Professionalism also entailed a focus on discipline. “The SA Army distinguishes itself through the disciplined manner in which its members conduct themselves in general and the control of the use of force during operations.”
The second pillar of SA Army Vision 2020 was the quest to be dynamic.
This entailed creating an army that was strong, able, capable and combat-ready with the necessary firepower, mobility and protection for its soldiers. “Its combat units (brigades and battalions or regiments) are based on the principle of integratedness (all arms system). Maintaining an effective and efficient, but small Regular Force capability that can rapidly be augmented by a Reserve Force capability when required, ensures the affordability and sustainability of the SA Army.” The vision also requires the army, in collaboration with the other services and government departments, possess the capability to deploy rapidly to distant theatres at short notice. On the tactical level the SA Army`s equipment is optimised to ensure speed and agility. Flexibility will also be a watchword. “The SA Army (must have) the flexibility to swiftly adapt to, and change from one mission to another, or even to conduct different missions simultaneously. These missions cover the full spectrum of operations ranging from humanitarian operations to full-scale warfighting,” Shoke said. Soldiers must also be enthusiastic, productive and committed to serve their country and become innovative and creative in developing new doctrine, training methods and fighting techniques. This will ensure success in future engagements “in a constantly changing and highly complex environment.”
Turning to technology and modern thinking about decision-making, Shoke said the Army had to ensure it had decision superiority in operations through an “excellent, integrated command and control, communications, computers, information, intelligence, infrastructure, reconnaissance and surveillance system, as well as through dynamic leaders with the knowledge, skills and attitude to make the right decisions time
iously in complex environments.” In terms of the vision, leaders of the Army must be able to handle, analyse and use high volumes of information to make the right decisions in the planning and execution of missions. “They go through the decision-making cycle of Observing, Orientating, Deciding and Acting (OODA) faster than their opponents.” Shoke said this required leaders at all levels that are mentally and emotionally mature. They have to be educated and trained to operate on their own and take calculated risks. Crucial to this are high quality soldiers. “The most important resource of the SA Army is its people and to be successful it recruits and trains high-quality personnel who are moulded into a cohesive force”, Shoke said.
While he needed a young, healthy and well-trained force, this had to be achieved without compromising or excluding the expertise of the older but well-trained soldiers. Soldiers who are no longer deployable are to re-skilled and accommodated in other or specialised tasks – or leave the Army after being prepared for a second, civilian career. To retain their expertise, they will be encouraged to join the Reserves.
Shoke then explained himself unhappy with the SA Army`s relationship with the public, media and trade unions, which he said “is currently on an uneasy footing”. Apart from bad media publicity, the public knows very little of developments within the SA Army and the positive role it plays in promoting the security of South Africa and its people, Shoke lamented. “The SA Army has become removed from society and limited interaction takes place to convince the people that the SA Army is a reliable and trustworthy force that can ensure their physical security through land operations. “The SA Army can only stay in contact with the larger public through the media. Unfortunately, the SA Army`s management of the relationship with the media is poor. It is reactive towards the media… This matter is further complicated by departmental restrictions on direct interaction with the media and the cumbersome process to interact with the media via higher channels. “The lack of qualified and experienced communication officers aggravates matters. This is a serious problem in the SA Army, where every member of the SA Army should be a potential ‘communication officer`. As a result, the SA Army is unable to cooperate effectively and transparently with the media and also to be proactive in promoting its own image and to utilize the media as a tool for success,” Shoke said.
The continued internationalisation of South Africa`s defence industry was both a blessing and a curse. While advantages included capital investment, access to the latest technologies, research funding and the like, it also poses major threats to the SA Army. Not only will all business partners involved know of any specific requirement from the SA Army (with the accompanying implications), but the former will also have the ability to stop the provisioning of such requirements if that is in their best interests. In worst-case scenarios foreign partners may rob the Industry of intellectual capital, or even in the long run close down competitors in their fields of expertise, thereby totally denying the SANDF access to specific capabilities, Shoke cautioned. Shoke also warned that the Army had no direct channel to the defence industry. Even though it is a major and direct client, it has to work through a middleman – the SANDF. “These channels are cumbersome, time consuming and give rise to inefficiency,” Shoke said.
The general was also concerned about wastage. “The SA Army`s budget allocation will never satisfy all SA Army requirements. Notwithstanding the prevailing budget shortfalls, the SA Army still tends to waste funds and its budgeting process is therefore viewed to be non-legitimate. This perception is further strengthened by an incapacity to couple accurate costs to specific objectives.”
Shoke concluded that SA Army Vision 2020 is the destination towards which the army aspires in preparing and providing a professional, dynamic and combat-ready force for the future. “In democracies military professionalism involves the basics of soldiering, including adherence to constitutional and national regulations, social responsibility, discipline, expertise, corporateness and sound management of resources – all basic contributes that must be in place. “A dynamic force involves a unique and powerful SA Army that strives to achieve its vision,” Shoke said.