Some 4000 soldiers, airmen, sailors and medics are currently taking part in Exercise Ndlovu at various locations around the country. The aim of the undertaking is “to exercise the reaction capability of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF),” the military’s Director Conventional Operations, Brigadier General Koos Liebenberg said.
Liebenberg is also exercise director for Ndlovu, the first such exercise in some five years. The SANDF’s force employment strategy dictates that the military test its reaction capability every four years. The last such exercise was held in 2006 but due to the hosting of the Southern African Development Community standby brigade Exercise Golfinho in 2009 and the FIFA Soccer World Cup the next year the event was shifted to this year.
Ndlovu started October 20 with a tactical road movement to the two mayor assembly areas – in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein respectively. Convoys converged on these two centers from 36 different units based all over South Africa. A division-level Joint Task Force Headquarters has been established in Kimberley in the Northern Cape to command 43 SA Brigade, 46 SA Brigade and a Joint Maritime Task Group operating off the west coast for the duration of the exercise.
The latter includes the combat support ship SAS Drakensberg as flagship, the River-class minehunter SAS Umzimkulu (M1142) and the Heroine-class submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102). 43 SA Bde, for exercise purposes, has under command elements from 1 and 3 Parachute Battalions, 4 Artillery Regiment and 2 Field Engineer Regiment, in addition to a maintenance unit and field workshop. 46 SA Bde has under command elements of 1 SA Tank Regiment, 1 Special Service Battalion (Rooikat armoured cars), 6 SA Infantry Battalion (Airmobile), 4 Artillery Regiment, 1 SA Intelligence Regiment (battlefield surveillance) and 13 Provost (Military Police) company.
The exercise will be focused on the theatre level and be executed at the campaign level, while allowing the achievement of objectives and participation of Services and divisions in a joint manner, the military last month said in a statement. “The exercise is designed to execute and practice various aspects of strategic, operational, tactical and technical military actions within the campaign with the main emphasis on command and control procedures. These aspects of operations are to be exercised to enhance the joint operational preparedness of the SANDF.
“The landward focus of this exercise will be in the Northern Cape with smaller maritime elements and Special Forces operating in the St Helena Bay area in the Western Cape.” The exercise culminates in a final “show down” of participating forces (46 SA Bde) on November 17 at the SA Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatlha, Northern Cape.
Liebenberg Friday noted “exercises are very expensive” and for that reason Ndlovu was being conducted with skeleton forces. By the same token, the emphasis was on “headquarters procedures and planning procedures”. Support, sustainment and command-and-control are also being exercised, with some participating forces being deployed as far afield as Makhado, Phalaborwa, Kimberley, Bloemfontein and St Helena Bay – almost the entire national territory.
Speaking to the media aboard SAS Drakensberg off Saldanha, Liebenberg said the budget for the exercise was some R20 million. He added planning already started some three years ago. “A lot of time and effort from a lot of people has gone to make this exercise happen and make it a success.”
While underway on Friday, the Drakensberg was boarded by commandos from the naval Maritime Reaction Squadron, put aboard by both boat and helicopter. The Drakensberg then came under simulated air attack from two Pilatus PC7 from the nearby Central Flying School. It responded to the last by going to action stations and engaging in air defence drills using its four 20mm cannon. Afterwards, the submarine Charlotte Maxeke closed with the Drakensberg and surfaced, followed by a sail-past by the Umzimkulu and a number of 4 Special Forces Regiment rigid hull inflatable boats.
Convoy movement back to home units will be concluded on November 22.