Austerity impacts SANDF time in the air and at sea

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Two areas where austerity measures brought on by a reduced defence budget show in the performance of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) are flying and sea hours.

A Department of Defence (DoD) presentation for performance during the third quarter of the 2023/24 financial year to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on Wednesday showed SA Air Force (SAAF) pilots logged 5 177.7 hours in the first three quarters of the year – 43% of the 12 000 allocated.

The SA Navy (SAN) was worse, using just 2 326.32 hours of its annual eight thousand hour allocation during the first three quarters of the 2023/24 financial year (29%). When it comes to maritime coastal patrol duty, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese’s service fared better, having completed 75% – three of the four – patrol target it set for itself as of Q3.

The maritime patrols were undertaken by the Valour Class frigate SAS Mendi (F148) in the False Bay and Saldanha area between 20 October and 17 November last year, with the SAN Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) assigned the same task in the Gansbaai area from 11 October to 8 November.

Internal operations, involving mostly the SA Army, stood at 100% for the third quarter of 2023/24. Soldiers from formations including infantry, air defence, and engineers did border protection (Operation Corona) as well as assist the SA Police Service (SAPS) and other government departments and entities, such as Eskom (Operation Prosper – extended to 31 March 2024) while the Engineer Formation was part of the rural bridge provision project, dubbed Operation Welisizwe by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).

From the end of October 2023, the SANDF has been working with the SAPS to combat illegal mining and successes recorded include 13 weapons recovered, 530 illegal miners apprehended, three stolen vehicles recovered, and goods and mining equipment worth R2.2 million confiscated.

The border safeguarding Operation Corona still stands at 15 sub-units/companies) of mostly infantry – regular and reserve – units. They, the PCDMV presentation has it, execute border safeguarding in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West, in an endeavour to safeguard and maintain the integrity of the country’s borderline”.

Corona successes during the three quarters of 2023/24 include 26 weapons recovered, 7 614 illegal foreigners apprehended, 312 criminals arrested, 69 stolen vehicles recovered, 4 541 kg of dagga confiscated, 2 114 head of livestock recovered, and R76 million worth of contraband goods confiscated.

The majority of the defence budget goes towards the compensation of employees, with R30.6 billion allocated in 2023/24, but projected expenditure is up to R34.4 billion, leaving a shortfall of R2.6 billion.

Out of an annual target of 1.9 million Reserve Force mandays, the SANDF achieved 120% of this, or 2.3 million, during the first three quarters of 2023/24. This is partly due to its average human resources strength being down to 68 000 for the third quarter, 1 833 less than the planned average strength.