While Ministerial pronouncements in general are not an “Open Sesame” Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s words that there will be a “push” on a number of acquisition programmes for the SA Army in the current financial year should raise spirits at Army headquarters in Pretoria.
The landward arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been ignored in the only major defence equipment acquisition since democracy and it is using equipment and vehicles that are, in many cases, well past their use by date.
Top of the want list for the major component of the SANDF has been and still is, a new infantry fighting vehicle to replace the ageing Ratel under Project Hoefyster with Project Vistula close behind. Vistula will see the again ageing fleet of Samil trucks replaced by modern vehicles, in all probability based on the German Mercedes-Benz chassis and drivetrain supplied by its South African subsidiary, to give the Army new cross-country tactical logistical and support vehicles.
Other heavy vehicles manufacturers and suppliers believed to be pursuing Vistula are Navistar, BMC, Renault Trucks Defence, BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa, Iveco Defence Vehicles, Rheinmetall Mann and Ashok Leyland.
Speaking during her budget vote debate in Parliament, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans said she was “concerned that despite an expressed commitment to improve the landward defence capability and despite funds being allocated in the past, very little progress has been made.
“This year we have ensured decisions on key projects are finalised and we are currently at contracting stages for the acquisition of various landward defence capabilities.”
The new infantry fighting vehicle, called the Badger, is based on the Patria AMV but will in all probability be fitted with a Denel land systems turret. A development contract for this vehicle was signed in 2007 but indications are that a production contract has not yet been finalised.
When first mooted way back in 2004 Project Vistula envisaged the acquisition of between 2 500 and 5 000 vehicles in the 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 categories to cover all the tactical transport needs of the various Army formations. This includes armour, engineers, air defence, infantry, signals as well as support elements such as engineers. While no official confirmation of numbers has been forthcoming it is believed to have been cut substantially.
Mapisa-Nqakula also used her time at the Parliamentary podium to assert her and her department’s commitment to a viable and competitive South African defence industry.
“It is a matter of concern that over the years South Africa is gradually losing its influential position as one of the industry leaders in defence innovation. Because of this the department must play a direct role in the restructuring of the defence industry to ensure it focuses primarily on the requirements of the SANDF,” she said.