Archive: How long is a piece of string?

6824
The minutes of the Portfolio Committee on Defence (PCOD) and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) — available to the public at www.pmg.org.za — often make depressing reading. Army chief Lt Gen Gilbert Ramano’s briefing to the JSCD on March 4 [2003] regarding transformation and integration in the SA Army was no exception.
In summary, Ramano told the committee his chief problem was reducing the size of the army from 75,000 troops to 33,900 troops, mostly in order to free funds for the service (1). A secondary — but related — problem, Ramano said, was the lack of an approved force design. It was also not clear how big the army or indeed the defence force should be, he said.
Cutting the Army to 33,900 (or worse, to about 25,000) and closing units came as something of a shock to the committee, it seems from the minutes. What should, perhaps, have disturbed them more is that despite a 1996 White Paper and a 1998 Defence Review and a great deal of tinkering by the DoD, the military still has no approved force design. How can this be?
Part of the answer must lie in the SANDF organising itself more in terms of what funds was available than the task at hand. To be fair to the SANDF, the task at hand has not always been that apparent. While the task of the defence force, in terms of the new Defence Act, (Act 42 of 2002) remains to protect the territorial integrity of the Republic (from foreign invasion), this is a relatively esoteric mission considering current geopolitical realities in southern Africa. This, along with government pronouncements on utilising the SANDF for peacekeeping gives greater weight to the 1999 White Paper on South Africa’s Participation in International Peace Missions when considering what the military will actually be doing.
In this regard, two statements, in particular, stand out. In late march, DoD Chief Director of Defence Policy, Nick Sendall told the JSCD that indications were that South Africa could become one of the globe’s top 10 troop contributing nations in terms of participation in peace missions. A month before, in late February, SANDF chief General Siphiwe Nyanda, by mouth of his chief of corporate staff, Vice-Admiral Martyn Trainor, told a seminar in Pretoria that South Africa and its defence force would undoubtedly play an important role in peace missions in Africa in the next decade. It was the SANDF’s objective to have the capacity to deploy between four and six battalions on peacekeeping duty by 2004, he added. This would be achieved by reducing deployments in support of the police and by rejuvenating the force through new recruiting and the implementation of Human Resource strategy 2010, which provides for discharging the old, the infirm and the undeployable.
Thinking in terms of battalions highlights the primary role the Army is likely to be assigned in these ventures. As the senior and largest service, this is probably unavoidable. But providing peacekeepers is not only an Army function. The SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Navy (SAN) and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) also have critical roles to play. Operation Fibre, the deployment of a 700-strong Protection Detachment to Burundi is a case in point. In addition to providing an air element, the SAAF also provided elements from its VIP protection squadron to the ground contingent.
Nevertheless, Nyanda’s vision provides a starting point for determining the length of string everyone is presently grappling with — a force design for the SANDF.
The SANDF by tradition and by law is not a unified service. Instead, it is a collective noun for its four constituent services, in order of seniority, the Army, the SAAF, the SAN and the SAMHS and their supporting joint establishments. Before considering them as a whole, they should be considered apart.
The Army
The Army is the senior Service, and the largest. In terms of organisation it consists of a number of chief directorates and staffs. In terms of structure it consists of a number of corps — often in fierce competition with each other for resources, prestige and control. This has made it difficult for outsiders to always understand developments within the Army or why it should take so long to form an opinion on certain matters. The awkward truth at Service as well as SANDF level is that many decisions are compromises reached at the end of bitter sectarian disputes. They are often clumsy and devoid of logic to the outsider.
In the Army the SA Infantry Corps is the senior and largest corps. (It is, in fact, by itself a third of the SANDF in size.) A myriad of other corps follow, the most important of which are the armour, artillery, air defence, engineering, ordnance service (logistics) and technical service (workshop) corps (to use the colloquial forms of address). Minor corps include the musicians and tactical intelligence. The importance of the corps derive in part from tradition and in part from their status as combat, combat support and combat service support organisations. The infantry and armour are naturally combat corps, the artillery are part of the combat support corps and the logistics and workshops troops support the other corps.
Staff positions at the Army Office (the headquarters) and in its subordinate structures are staffed by men and women who primarily think — and are trained to think — in terms of their own corps. The main corps express themselves through appropriate structures called “type formations,” such as the SA Army Infantry Formation, the SA Army Armour Formation, etc. These generally include a staff element located at the Army Office at Potgieter Street in Pretoria, and a training institution , such as the Infantry School as well as units, called “battalions” by some corps and “regiments” by others (and “units” by a few).
In this way the Infantry Formation’s regular component includes 16 infantry battalions of various types (mechanised, motorised and “light”) and a parachute regiment. In addition the formation run a number of group headquarters to supervise the territorial reserves, better known as the commandos. There are presently 183 commandos of various shapes and sizes dotted across South Africa. By presidential instruction they are to be abolished over the next six years. The Infantry’s reserve component also includes around 25 infantry battalions, most in serious disrepair and woefully understrength after years of none-funding (“under funding” being too misleading a term to use). The Armour Formation includes a tank regiment (battalion), an armoured car regiment and a seperate armoured car squadron (company), the latter attached to the Infantry’s 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. Its reserve component includes seven regiments. The Artillery musters one composite regiment in its regular wing and seven regiments in its reserve wing. The Air Defence Artillery also fields a single regular regiment and five are in reserve. The SA Engineer Corps has a larger establishment. It includes a Field Engineer Regiment, an Engineer Regiment, an Engineer Support Regiment, a Construction Regiment, a Survey & Mapping Regiment and a printing regiment in its regular arm. The Reserve arm has three field engineer and one parachute engineer regiments. The Intelligence Regiment fields a regular tactical intelligence regiment. Its reserve counterparts seem to have faded away. The Army Training Formation, responsible for the War College, Army Gymnasium, the Combat Training Centre and the basic training depot , includes no reserve units. It is not certain if the Army Support Formation, home to the regular logistics and workshop units, include reserve units. It is known that reserve logistics units, such as 15 Maintenance Unit, still exist. The picture regarding the status of signal units in the now joint-service SANDF Command and Management and Information (CMI) formation is foggy. When established in the late 1990s it included the Army’s 2 Signals Regiment (telecommunications) and 5 Signals Regiment (electronic warfare). A number of reserve signal units were also incorporated. By 2002 nine remained as part of the multi-unit 6 Signal Regiment. The SANDF’s 2001/2002 annual report lists the formation as including a signals school, a CMI support unit, an electronic workshop, a CMI Service Centre and four signal regiments as well as the SA Crypto Security Agency Service Centre.
The SAAF
The 9,250-strong SAAF is becoming increasingly reliant on its 434 reservists, mostly qualified pilots and groundcrew to make up for shortfalls in the regular component.
At corporate level, the SAAF is also made up of a headquarters, or Air Command and a series of chief director rates, again staffed by SAAF personnel drawn from different career paths. The undisputed masters, however, are the pilot branch, made up of a collection of fighter jocks, helicopter pilots and multi-engine (transport) aviators. Traditionally, fighter pilots are first among equals and the Chief of the Air Force has always been from the fast-jet community.
The SAAF at a lower level is also made up of type formations and these of flying schools and squadrons (the air force equivalent to the battalion). At present the SAAF has two fighter squadrons, of which one will receive 28 Gripen to replace an equal number of aging Cheetah and the other 24 Hawk fighter trainers to replace the obsolete and unsafe Impala. It is expected that many of the new fighters will remain in storage until sufficient pilots can be trained and retained to fly them. Sufficient flying hours for them to retain, nay improve on their proficiency will then needed to be budgeted for, something that is not presently the case. In addition the SAAF has six transport squadrons with an eclectic mix of aircraft, including 12 C130Z Hercules, 11 C47TP Dakotas, four Casa 212 a Casa 235 and 11 Cessna 185. One of the squadrons have a VIP function and another, equipped with Boeing 707s also have an airborne refuelling and electronic warfare role.
The helicopter capability centres on one combat support squadron slated to receive 12 Rooivalk attack helicopters and four composite squadrons (operating more than one helicopter type) flying 44 Oryx medium and 10 BK117 as well as 24 SA316/319 Alouette III light utility helicopters. The Alouettes will shortly make way for 30 Agusta A109M helicopters. The BK117s could later be replaced by a further 10 A109s. The Air Force’s Central Flying School also employs a veritable fleet of 53 PC7 Astra training aircraft for basic training. At least half are surplus to requirement — raising questions about why they were purchased in the first place — and are now in storage. In addition, the SAAF operates a number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), surface-to-air missile systems and radar installations. It also musters 12 security squadrons, including the one tasked with VIP protection.
In addition to the regular squadrons, who use reservists as individual augmentees, a number of so-called “commando” air squadrons exist. These are air force reserve squadrons, the pilots of which have placed their personal, private, aircraft at SAAF disposal. There are nine at present. The squadrons are used for reconnaissance, police support, command and control as well as liaison flights. The aircraft are not armed.
The SAN
Through a sad synergy of budgetary constraints, old equipment and personnel uninterested in sea-duty, the once ocean-going SAN has been reduced from a navy to a military port service. The 5,000-and-shrinking Navy is currently being concentrated at Simon’s Town, near Cape Town, but problems are being experienced moving some personnel from Durban, previously a main naval centre, apparently because of family ties. This problem is by no means unique to the navy. Sea duty, like peacekeeping duty is voluntary — which also helps explain why the Army has such a torrid time finding peacekeepers, beyond the question of “age and Aids.” In a press interview some years ago, a leading seaman indicated that he considered sea-duty a necessary evil and that he saw naval service not as a calling or career, but as “just a job.” Reading between the lines, he would have been equally at home at the Post Office or at some municipality. For such people the small additional allowances paid to peacekeepers and seagoing personnel are not worth the “inconvenience.”
The leading seaman would, no doubt, be horrified to read that US naval ships routinely deploy away from home port for an uninterrupted period of six months — and often longer. What should get his attention is that Parliament, by way of the chairwoman of the JSCD and PCOD takes a dim view on his ilk. Thandi Modise this month told the SANDF such types had to be weeded out.. volunteering for service in the SANDF (aka seeking a job in the armed forces) implied volunteering for service wherever one was required. (This is the case in the SA Police Service, which has now taken the bit between the teeth and is moving officials to where they are required in terms of strategy rather then where they prefer to stay or work. The policy has met with much opposition and some law suits. However, government policy, formulated by the Department of Public Service and Administration, and also applicable to the police and SANDF, allows for the retrenchment of officials who refuse to comply. The policy allows for, among other, humanitarian exemptions. Those who support the recalcitrant have vilified the policy saying much expertise will go lost. However, expertise located where not required is lost anyway.
In addition to the submarines and frigates, the SAN also plans to retain about four of its Warrior class missile boats. (Presently, for the reasons cited above, only four of the eight boats available are in use at any one time.) The navy will also be agitating in future years for at least a further two frigates as well as a landing ship to allow it to support the Army in amphibious operations. The landing ship (or ships) will replace the two combat support (supply) vessels currently in service — or so they say. In addition, the SAN is one of the few navies in Africa to have a minehunting and minesweeping ability, with four vessels in each class. Again only two of each are available at any one time. Other naval assets include three inshore patrol craft, a diving support vessel, one survey ship, three tugs, 28 harbour patrol boats and eight utility landing craft. The SAN also has a number of ashore training establishments, including a basic training depot, a naval gymnasium (officer school) and naval college.
Like the SAAF, the SAN prefers to see its 1,330 reservists as individual augmentees. However, most are assigned to relatively inactive reserve shore establishments and when activated are treated more as visitors than naval officers and ratings. Many are also still mustered in the long-defunct Marine Corps (disbanded in 1990). The navy has taken little interest in remustering them, deploying them aboard ships or otherwise making their experience gainful. Having gained nothing from the experience either, the SAN now intends closing these reserve units as a penultimate step in rubbing out the naval reserve. Sadly, the regular, even in a “one force” military is often the reservist’s worst enemy. A point about individual augmentees: Many are in fact not “real reservists” but former regulars who took lucrative severance packages who have been brought back into active duty via the “reservist” backdoor. Often active for six months or longer — when other reservists hardly stay in uniform a weekend — they are paid for out of the reserve budget and at their last rank level — in addition to receiving a full pension. Indeed “nice work if you can get it” or a rotten, virtually fraudulent, practice that should be stamped out under Parliamentary supervision.
The SAMHS
It is arguable whether the SAMHS should exist as a seperate service. There is much to be said for it rather being an autonomous agency within the SANDF, like the Chaplaincy. Chaplains wear the uniform and observe the customs of the combat service they are assigned to. The SAMHS is not a combat service, the traditional and international measure for service independence.
Like the other services it boasts a head office superstructure imposed over three type, one support and one training formation. These run three military hospitals, a slew of sickbays and a “medical battalion group” tasked with supporting the Special Forces and parachute regiment with operational paramedics (“ops medics”) and providing the SANDF with an embryonic defence against weapons of mass destruction attack. The SAMHS’ reserve element includes two more “medical battalion groups,” in effect an integrated field ambulance and field hospital. However, these exist in name only: neither have the requisite personnel or equipment. Indeed, field-deployable gear and specialist medical equipment is known to be in short supply in the regular component. If it was standing idle in the reserve stores, it would have been commandeered for sure!
The SANDF
At SANDF level a number of divisions exist in addition to the four Services, just discussed. These are staffed by personnel drawn from the four Services and who generally serve only a short time in these divisions before returning to their mother services. Careers are not advanced in these posts by undermining one’s Service.
The divisions under discussion are Corporate Staff, Joint Support, Joint Operations and Defence Intelligence. The Corporate Staff Division includes chief directorates for strategy and planning, corporate communications, foreign relations and legal services. It also includes the Chaplain General and the ineffective Reserve Force office. The Joint Support Division is a sprawling organisation including the CMI formation, a Joint Training Formation, the Military Police (MP) Agency (a MP school, a military prison, four regional headquarters and a Provost Regiment), the moribund Service Corps and a Logistic Support Formation (LSF). The LSF includes an ammunition depot, a main ordnance depot, four schools and training centres, an air supply unit, a mobilisation centre, three general support basis (GSB) and the military supermarket/convenience store chain, SAFI.
The Joint Operations (JOPS) Division includes several legs, most importantly a Permanent Joint HQ commanding the five regional joint task forces (running the operational aspects of the groups who command the commandos and regular troops deployed in support of the police) and a Special Forces (SF) Brigade. This brigade includes two SF regiments, known to be deficient in SF warriors, and a logistics unit. For all practical purposes it also controls the Army’s two brigade headquarters, the nominally regular 43 Brigade and the nominally reserve 46 Brigade. Unlike the SF Brigade, neither have any units under permanent command. Both have since 2001 supplied headquarters elements to Operation Fibre (Burundi). They will shortly do the same for the battalion-plus deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — Operation Mistral.
The JOPS approach to these and similar deployments, such as Operation Boleas, the 1998 intervention in Lesotho, have been to task a brigade headquarters with a mission and then to assign the headquarters units and sub-units drawn from the four Services for the duration of the operation. The brigade commander is then expected to plan and execute within the mission given and with the forces and support assigned. This has generally worked in the SANDF and its predecessors’ favour in the past. However, Boleas was a close-run thing, variously described by the media and critics as a near-disaster and by the SANDF as an excellent training opportunity and the cement that bound the many previously antagonistic factions merged post-1994. Like most SANDF maladies, this fondness for ad hoc task organisation comes a long way. The Union Defence Force employed it in World War I to raise “hostilities-only” battalions and brigades for service in East Africa and France — thus depriving existing Permanent Force and Citizen Force units battle honours –then and now. The SADF repeated the experience in SWA/Namibia and Angola, relying on ad hoc battle groups, task forces and the like. Since these were disbanded as soon as an operation was over, there was little time for after-action reports and for putting into practice lessons learned. As a result, little learned during that conflict — other than the penchant for ad hoc structures — endures.
A new force design
The time has come to follow a new approach. There is a need to regularise practice and to determine how many regular and reserve units are required for the tasks at hand. This will in turn determine the supporting establishments required at all levels. By way of explanation it can be added that 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.
Another “rule of thumb” is that during a peace mission, contingents are deployed for fixed periods, typically six months. They are then rotated home and generally replaced by another contingent. 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.
In simple terms, what is required then, is to divide the SANDF into three teams or shifts to allow for continuous deployments.
A simple example of how this can be done follows below, based on Nyanda’s requirement for four battalions at any given time with the ability to increase the number through mobilising Reserves, as may be required.
Brigades. For the sake of this example, the number of conventional brigade headquarters will be expanded from two. It is proposed that three fully staffed and fully equipped regular component headquarters and three reserve headquarters, at lesser readiness, be established. 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. In this example all six brigades will be organised along similar lines for the sake of simplicity. Each should 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 the existing Special Forces 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 is a composite armoured regiment composed of a squadron of 14 main battle tanks, another squadron of 14 armoured cars and a third squadron of 14 tank destroyers. Seperate from these units and answerable directly to the brigade commander is a reconnaissance company and a SF-trained para-commando company. 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 a flight of four Rooivalk attack helicopters, another of ten Oryx and a third of six A109. The fixed-wing wing should include a flight of four Gripen , four Hawk, four Hercules and one Casa 212. Each wing will 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 seperate 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 will 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 seperate engineer squadron along with a pioneer 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.
The SF and Airborne Brigades. In this example, the SF Brigade is retained but with one reconnaissance and one para-commando battalion. While the focus of the first will be primarily operational and strategic reconnaissance and deployments take place in small teams, the para-commandos will focus on operational level direct action missions, such as raids, hostage rescue and the like. Both of these battalions will at all times have at least a company on standby for a six month deployment. This would necessitate both 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 airborne brigade, it is suggested that a tailor-made organisation be established in the place of the current Parachute Regiment. The brigade should include a reinforced regular parachute infantry battalion group (meaning it includes artillery, air defence, engineer and related troops), and two, similar, reserve parachute battalion groups. In addition, it should include the current parachute training school, a logistics regiment and a Pathfinder company (to mark parachute drop zones and act as brigade reconnaissance element. As the SANDF’s “fire brigade” it is not envisaged that the Airborne Brigade 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 one of 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. As has been the practice during Operation Fibre and during thousands of deployments in support of the police, units not required in their primary roles, such as armour or air defence, can be deployed in a secondary infantry role.
Numbers.
Regular Conventional Brigades:
3 Headquarters
3 Mechanised Infantry Battalions
6 Motorised Infantry Battalions
3 Composite Armoured Regiments
3 Aviation Units
3 Composite Artillery Regiments
3 Field Engineer Regiments
3 Logistic Regiments
3 Workshop Units
3 Medical Battalions
3 Para-commando Companies
3 Reconnaissance Companies
3 Air Defence Batteries
3 Engineer Squadrons
3 Pioneer Detachments
3 Signals Squadrons
3 Provost Companies
Reserve Conventional Brigades:
3 Headquarters
3 Mechanised Infantry Battalions
6 Motorised Infantry Battalions
3 Composite Armoured Regiments
3 Composite Artillery Regiments
3 Field Engineer Regiments
3 Logistic Regiments
3 Workshop Units
3 Medical Battalions
3 Para-commando Companies
3 Reconnaissance Companies
3 Air Defence Batteries
3 Engineer Squadrons
3 Pioneer Detachments
3 Signals Squadrons
3 Provost Companies
Special Forces Brigade
1 Reconnaissance Battalion
1 Para-commando Battalion
1 Logistics Regiment
Airborne Brigade
1 Regular Parachute Infantry Battalion Group
2 Reserve Parachute Infantry Battalion Groups
1 Logistics Regiment
“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.
REFERENCES:
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.
ENDNOTES
(1) According to 2002 Parliamentary briefing figures the Army regular uniform component was in fact 35,147, the strength of the SA National Defence Force — SANDF — was approximately 60,000 and that of the Department of Defence — DoD — about 78,700. The DoD employed about 17,000 civilians in 2002. These different figures for different occasions are the bane of commentators. In addition there were 73,000 Reservists in 2002. The bulk served in the Army territorial reserve and smaller groups in the Army conventional reserve, the SAAF reserve, SAN reserve and SAMHS reserve.



April 2003