The Department of Defence has failed to give Parliament detailed reports on arms acquisition programmes over the past four years, failing to reveal bottlenecks, failures, delays and cost overruns, according to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party.
David Maynier, Shadow Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, said that the Defence Department has not delivered detailed reports in spite of the Department’s own policy on armament acquisition requiring that bi-annual and ad hoc reports be submitted on all armaments acquisition programmes to Parliament.
He said the delays, cost overruns and other failures being kept hidden in the reports “compromised the operational readiness of the South African National Defence Force.”
Maynier had access to a number of documents on various arms acquisition programmes in 2012, which were withheld from Parliament. Some of these projects being implemented by the Department of Defence and financed through the secret Special Defence Account include “Project Assegaai” (A-Darter air-to-air missile); “Project Drummer” (upgrade of the Oryx helicopters); “Project Hoefyster” (Badger infantry fighting vehicle); “Project Vagrant” (protection of SAAF Facilities); and “Project Vistula” (operational supply vehicles).
According to Maynier, the documents reveal “significant delays in decision-making, including at least a twelve month delay in Project Vagrant, which compromised the physical security of the South African Air Force’s bases;
“Development failures, including an unsuccessful firing of an A-Darter air-to-air missile, in respect of Project Assegaai, which impacted on the schedule and the costs;
“Significant delays, including a twenty-seven month delay in Project Drummer II, which impacted on the operational readiness of the South African Air Force’s helicopter capability; and
“Poor leadership, management and planning by state arms manufacturer Denel, particularly in respect of Project Assegaai and Project Drummer, which compromised the ‘operational readiness’ of the South African National Defence Force.”
Due to the importance of such information, Maynier said he will write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, Stanley Motimele, requesting that he schedule an “open meeting” on defence acquisitions as soon as possible at Parliament.
“We have to ensure that the Defence Department complies with its own policy on armaments acquisition and submits regular reports on all armaments acquisition programmes to Parliament,” Maynier said.
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said that the secrecy around most acquisition projects is unnecessary to the point of being silly. “All it does is feed conspiracy theories and set up future contracts for claims of corruption by losing bidders,” he told defenceWeb.
Heitman said that some of the problems with the delayed projects (e.g. Hoefyster, Vistula, Sapula as well as Bandsman [crash tenders for air bases]) lie with industry and some with the SANDF and DoD, and some result from the Minister not being able to attend key approval meetings. “But most seem to be a result of duplication of hoops to be jumped through (Materiel and Armscor), which the Defence Review attempted to address, but which hit such opposition from certain circles that this aspect has had to be postponed, and a failure by Armscor to place contracts promptly even when there is a clear winner and even when the acquisition plan has been approved at all levels.”
Hoefyster is an example of the latter, as Armscor was given the green light to issue a tender in February this year, but industry is still waiting.
“The problems are aggravated by a lack of technical and contract personnel with experience: A lot left and some senior ones were driven off or even dismissed by Armscor for spurious reasons, leaving the organisation ever-less able to deal with its key task,” Heitman said.
“Finally on the Armscor issue, the board and, I suppose also some senior management, are probably too busy dreaming about their new strategy – which is of little relevance to the actual task of the organisation – to focus on what they are supposed to be doing, which is equipping the Defence Force properly, promptly and cost-effectively.
“The delays are having a serious impact on readiness – maintenance contracts for ships and aircraft are another example – and aggravated by a lack of funds to go ahead with some things that are ready to roll. For instance we could have had Mokopa in service long ago, if there had been money to order it into production; instead the Rooivalk is not going to the DRC with only its 20 mm cannon and rockets. The same applies to the guided bomb systems and the long-range 105 mm (although that is in large part the Army’s own fault).
“To be fair to everyone, the ‘bow wave’ of projects that has built up as a result of under-funding since 1989 has created a challenge that would be difficult to meet without the other problems – and it is only going to get worse,” Heitman concluded.