Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was all smiles and bonhomie toward Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, his Cabinet colleague tasked with the defence portfolio, during his national budget address but this did not mask the fact that the country’s military has, at best, marked time in the queue for more money.
Defence was allocated R44.579 billion by Nene to meet its requirements in the 2015/16 financial year. This is a just about R1.7 billion increase over the previous financial year’s allocation but when inflation and the exchange rate, particularly as regards the American dollar, are taken into account it becomes an effective decrease in operating budgets for arms of services and the units comprising them.
The Defence Review also earns a mention in the Defence vote section of the Finance Minister’s presentation. He points out the Department of Defence (DoD) will develop an implementation plan working toward milestone one of the Review in the 2015/16 financial year. The milestone is immediate and directed interventions to arrest the critical decline in defence capabilities. It affects all four arms of service – the air force, army, navy and military health service.
According to the Defence Vote on the National Treasury website, the DoD will be acquiring equipment and developing systems to maintain “a modern, balanced and technologically advanced force”.
“It has budgeted for medium and light transport aircraft, a new generation mobile communication capability and precision guided air force ammunition for air defence. These acquisitions are reflected in spending in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 air defence programmes. For maritime defence the department plans to acquire a hydrographic vessel and offshore patrol vessels, upgrade frigates and static communication for the Navy as well as replace heavyweight torpedo capabilities.”
The air defence ammunition referred to can only be the A-Darter, the joint Brazil/South Africa project, said military analyst Darren Olivier, who points out the SA Air Force (SAAF) has to acquire it in terms of the development programme.
“While not specifically mentioned it is believed the torpedo referred to is the DM2A4 Seehecht which will give the Navy’s Heroine Class submarines a potent new weapon.
“Sadly, both the SAAF and the SAN desperately need training money to actually fire a few of these and get their respective crews not only qualified but proficient on the use of the new weapons.”
He went on to say: “This sort of disconnect was highlighted when the Finance Minister boasted in his speech about how he was placating the Defence Minister by allocating so much money to force employment. The actual allocation is just R200 million more than it was in the previous financial cycle”.
Part of the force employment sees the army, assisted by the air force, safeguarding South Africa’s borders and territorial integrity by deploying 13 sub-units (companies) over the medium term on the borders with Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. Expenditure on border safeguarding is projected to be R2.8 billion over the medium term in the Support to the People sub-programme of the Force Employment programme. It does not appear as if there is any intention to increase the number of soldiers on Operation Corona in the medium term as 13 companies are currently deployed on this tasking.
Part of the DoD’s commitment to government medium term strategic framework, particularly that which stipulates all people in South Africa are and feel safe, sees it taking on cybercrime. The department will focus on cyber security over the medium term, finalising a cyber warfare strategy in 2015/16 and establishing a cyber command centre by 2018/19. This will be done in the Defence Intelligence programme at a projected cost of R511 million over the medium term.
“Overall,” Olivier maintains, “the picture is bleak. Yet again a year has gone by with dire warnings about SA National Defence Force (SANDF) under-funding and not a single thing has been done about it. After being told again and again how underfunding was destroying the force’s capabilities, the response was not to increase, in a particular example, the SAAF budget, but to reduce it.
“It’s all a bit mind-boggling.”
The airborne arm of the SANDF has had its budget cut by over R300 million to R7.04 billion. Transport and Maritime is worst hit, losing 43% of its 2014/15 budget from R1.81 billion to R790 million. The Air Combat Capability sub-programme gets just R1.4 billion, still lower in 2015 Rand than the 2012/13 budget.
“On top of all this, only 6 500 flying hours total are budgeted for the entire SAAF, down from the average of 11 500 hours each year in 2012 and earlier. Yet the SAAF is expected to do more than ever, especially with ACIRC (African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises), the interim force that is supposed to fill the gap until the AU’s African Standby Force (ASF) is operational,” he said.