Africa is the last great untapped defence market. By the end of this decade Africa plans to have a multi-brigade United Nations-style force ready to police the continent’s trouble spot.
The present design is based on the UN`s multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), essentially a light-infantry force with a small helicopter element and some logistic support. Its formation is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a manifestation of the ability, long desired, for Africa to police its own trouble spots. Secondly, the African Union (AU) Standby Force (ASF) at last provides a rationale for the defence industry to engage. Selling defence equipment in Africa is almost an abomination in many circles. It is indeed difficult to do because of the poor financial record and solvency of many states and restrictions on defence exports for human rights and other policy reasons. But with the ASF, selling arms to Africa becomes morally right, if not imperative.
As the African Renaissance unfolds many are arguing that the need for armed forces will fall away and with it the need for arms. But as is plain to see, progress towards the often-talked-about African Renaissance will be halting – and there will be reverses. Terrorism hangs spectre-like over progress. In such circumstances democratically advanced African states may have to intervene militarily or dispatch peacekeepers. If they are to be taken seriously, they need to be properly trained and equipped.
The AU peace and Security Council (PSC) and ASF provide a framework for military as well as defence-industrial cooperation. African militaries can work together in both the force preparation (training, etc.) and force employment (operations) fields. This could include establishing joint units along the Eurocorps model as well as the joint acquisition and operation of equipment such as ships or patrol aircraft along the model of the NATO AWACS fleet. Another regional or continental project could be to establish a number of high-class exercise areas for member countries, similar to that at Fort Irwin in the US.
Integration will logically lead to more common procurement. Zimbabwe Defence Industries CEO Colonel Tshinga Dube (Ret) told the 2000 African Defence Summit that “besides meeting the defence requirements for the region, South Africa can also help other SADC members develop their defence industries. In so doing, the regional armies would be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment designed and manufactured in the region for the region.” This way, a project too expensive or cumbersome for one country can be tackled by the region as a whole. Armscor, the South African defence department`s procurement agency, is also keen on regional military-industrialisation, joint purchases and standardisation. It sees a role for itself as a regional – and perhaps AU – purchaser. To date politics, policy and turmoil have left these ambitions unfulfilled.
It is a truism that any modern, let alone technologically advanced, defence force requires a corresponding industry. This is almost singularly lacking in Africa – and New Partnership for Africa`s Development still needs decades to remedy this. Autarky, therefore, is not an option. The present African defence industry is anchored in South Africa and Egypt, with a smattering of minor munitions plants and facilities in between. Egypt concentrates on the assembly and maintenance of US equipment. This nascent capability may hold a key for the US into Africa, where an anti-American bias is prevalent. Egypt as both an African and an Arab state might be an effective middleman and marketer. The Namibian industry is concentrated in the government-owned Windhoeker Maschinen Fabrik that manufactures the Wolf-series of mine-protected personnel carrier. These have been marketed by Military International Limited (MIL) of Canada. As is the case in South Africa, only a small part of the Zimbabwe defence industry is specialised. The country manufactures high-quality uniforms, webbing and tentage. Some years ago the Chinese helped build Zimbabwe facilities for light arms manufacture. Botswana is credited with a maintenance and limited repair capability. Tanzania also has a Chinese-manufacture arms and ammunition plant and Kenya has a military textile industry as well as repair and maintenance facilities. Nigeria is credited with similar abilities. Of these, only South Africa has real intellectual property rights (IPR) ownership – and its sole defence exhibition – African Aerospace and Defence. The bulk of that IPR is held by Armscor, on behalf of the DoD.
South Africa`s 1999 Defence-related Industries White Paper called for the establishment of a “dedicated defence technology organisation to coordinate and integrate defence research in the public, private and academic sectors, with the specific objective of retaining and enhancing certain specified strategic defence technologies”. These were identified as:
Ø Logistic and maintenance support; and
Ø Integrating, adapting and modifying equipment bought on the open market to provide a combat advantage. Technologies key to this were:
Þ System integration;
Þ Command, control and communication means;
Þ Sensors and data processing;
Þ Electronic warfare as well as “strategic and tactical electronics”; and
Þ Combat systems software, including simulation and war-gaming.
These technologies and capabilities have since enjoyed limited protectionism and subsidisation by government. The capabilities they represent make up roughly 40 percent of the through-life costs of systems. Not only should this help maintain South Africa`s self-sufficient mid-life upgrade capability, but it also keeps a significant slice of the money spent on arms in the country—without having to accept the R&D and production risks for the primary equipment. The document also encouraged outside investment in the local industry. Joint ventures were especially favoured, particularly if black empowerment partners were involved. In all instances substantial technology transfer would be promoted. It is unlikely the country will again endeavour to build attack helicopters or other major systems: as illustrated by the strategic defence package, it is simpler to purchase these on the open market and customise them for local conditions or fit them out with South African systems. The paper is being updated at present but these elementals are expected to stay.
What will be the shape of the future African military? Industry orders are dependent on user requirements and these are driven by force design. Presently, “light” is seen as right. This trend is now global and shows how the military mind is susceptible to the dictates of fashion and necessity. The current gallop to lighten the forces is based partly on the belief that intensive conventional warfare of the Gulf War-type (1980-88, 1991, 2003) is a thing of the past in most places (barring the Middle East), partly on cost considerations (light forces are cheaper than heavy, mechanised outfits) and partly on the supposed lessons learnt from recent conflicts such as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. African armed forces are already light – what they now need is to be right. Smaller, more professional forces armed with turnkey force multipliers such as those highlighted by the South Africans.
The armed services of the more progressive African states will increasingly become modular in order to provide balanced, sustainable forces to the ASF. A more useful model in this regard than SHIRBRIG was proposed by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi in the March 2003 edition of the African Armed Forces Journal. Qadhafi called for a joint, combined force including robust land, sea and air elements. His land element contained three light and one mechanised brigade. The former included three 500-strong infantry battalions, a mortar battery, an engineer battalion, a light helicopter squadron, a medical battalion, a maintenance company, a logistics battalion, a military police company and a US-style civil affairs group. The mechanised brigade included a tank and three mechanised infantry battalions in addition to a 105mm artillery battery. The sea element, Qadhafi, argued, could include two command vessels, two frigates, two amphibious vessels and one hospital ship, a marine battalion and various support ships. His air element would include three fighter/bomber squadrons, three C130 squadrons and an aerial refueling, an attack helicopter and two utility helicopter squadrons along with support elements. In addition to these air and sea elements, which neither the UN nor the ASF in its current form caters for, Qadhafi foresaw the need for a special forces battalion, an independent communications battalion, an independent combat service support battalion as well as a field hospital in addition to further logistics, support and civil affairs elements. In conception it is similar to the well-proven UN Marine Expeditionary Brigade – a land, sea and air task force ready for immediate deployment.
Africa has a demonstrated legitimate need for defence materiel and assistance. A framework for engagement now exists. Plans and structures that allow for realistic costing, financing and needs generation are falling into place as are viable payment mechanisms. Seize the moment!
July 11, 2004