Bad move to cut Reserve Force mandays, defence committee hears

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Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard the already under pressure Army Reserves face additional calls for utilisation, with a reduction in allocated mandays impacting administratively and operationally.

Defence Reserves director, Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana, told the second last JSCD meeting of the year the Reserve Force component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had six major roles. These are topped by augmenting the regular force, inherent in the SANDF one force doctrine, with the Reserves forming part of standing and surge military force capability.

The part-timers number 19 937 with Army Reserves contributing the lion’s share at 15 934. SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) reserves number 2 463 with the air force (872) and navy coming a distant fourth and fifth. Position number three is, according to the SA Air Force (SAAF) one-star, filled by the ubiquitous “Other”.

Niyabo-Mana’s presentation to the JSCD has it the reduction in mandays will affect border safeguarding, an operational area where Reserve Force units are regularly deployed. “Bulk impact will be on force employment where insufficient forces will be available to conduct Op Corona in terms of border safeguarding,” she said, adding quick reaction events, such as the July unrest, may be compromised because the majority of manpower for such events is Reserve Force.

Tellingly, she warned “insufficient forces to support other government departments and the SAPS (SA Police Service) may lead to a complete breakdown in service delivery, law and order and national security”.

The “insufficient forces” come from reducing the current manday allocation of close to 1.3 million to 926 000, more than 365 000 less. This will see 10 500 Reserves called up on average compared to the current figure off 54 short of 13 000.

Implications for the biggest user of part-time soldiers – the SA Army – are an impact on combat readiness. Niyabo-Mana gave the example of the landward force providing much manpower for joint force employment, where seven of 15 companies are Reserves.

The planned reduction in mandays will also impact on training and as a result, combat readiness.

Niyabo-Mana has it that to be combat ready “companies must do regular continuation and pre-deployment training. With limited mandays no continuation training will be possible for Op Corona (internal) and external Op Mistral and possibly in Mozambique (Op Vikela)”.

She warned the risk of an even bigger number of unemployed Reserves was not out of the question. “Efforts by the SA Army to maintain such a capacity will end up creating a Reserve Force of ‘unemployed’ trained soldiers which could pose a threat to national security if not managed properly.”

Her finale to the JSCD was targeting Reserve Force cuts disproportionately to the Regular Force is “a short term solution with major long term implications”.