Army Reserves are Operation Corona backbone


The ongoing border protection tasking assigned to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) by Cabinet would be nowhere near as successful as it is if the contribution made by the Reserve Force component of the SA Army is taken away.

The Reserve component of Operation Corona varies from 40 to 65% of total deployed strength at any one time. This variation is due to the call-up cycle.

Earlier this year a company from Western Cape Reserve Force the Cape Town Highlanders was dispatched to Upington, becoming the first soldiers to do operational duty as part of Operation Corona on the South Africa/Namibia border.

The part-time soldiers are based at Louisvale and move to the international border by truck for patrol duties. They are housed in a re-deployable camp system that was surplus to the needs of the SA Navy, meaning accommodation could be provided without having to fork out extra funds.

The deployment of the Reserve Force is part and parcel of Project Phoenix, the plan to comprehensively rejuvenate the part-time component across all four arms of service. That attention has been given to the project is evidenced by the increase in funds allocated. Taking Army Reserves as an example: in 2003 when Project Phoenix started R21 million was budgeted, for the 2012/13 financial year this figure was R625 million.

Another good reason for better utilisation of particularly Army Reserves is that their salaries amount to around seven per cent of the total landward force salaries and wages budget over a 12 month financial year.

To date 60 Reserve Force companies have been deployed as part of Operation Corona with by far the majority of deployments taking place on South Africa’s border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Swaziland and Lesotho borders are also regularly patrolled and this year saw the start of border protection by men on foot and in vehicles along the Botswana and Namibia borders.

While the presence of soldiers is in itself a deterrent this is not always going to be sufficient. Illegals and others intent on coming into South Africa either looking for work or markets to illegally sell goods such as cigarettes and liquor, will keep on coming through and senior officers have over the years emphasised the need for technology to be brought into play as a more effective form of border protection.

This was also stressed by Strategic Defence Intelligence in its latest report on the future of the South African defence industry. In addition to peacekeeping commitments and homeland security requirements, the report indicates border security challenges will be the third main driver of the local defence industry.
“South Africa is also facing severe border security challenges and is expected to undertake strict measures to curb illegal immigration as well as the illicit movement of goods and arms. This is set to encourage government to increase its defence budget from R45.5 billion in 2015 to R53 billion in 2019,” the report states.

A senior Joint Operations officer told defenceWeb some years ago at the Sand River base in the Kruger National Park that technology would “have to enter the border protection scenario sooner rather than later”. He also pointed out the budgetary constraints the SANDF was likely to have to put up with for the foreseeable future would make provision of electronic beam detectors and unmanned aerial systems, among others, “very difficult”.

At present Reserves typically make up a quarter of any continental deployment, being the fourth company added to a regular force of a three-company battalion. To date more than 50 Reserve Force companies have been part of peace support operations for six months at a time.

It is not yet clear yet whether Reserves will also deploy for 12 months as opposed to six, in particular as regards MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).