Respected military analyst Helmoed Heitman is in agreement with Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, that the national defence budget should be mandate rather than numbers driven, but warns ominously “no-one will listen to her any more than they did to her predecessor and there’s a nasty surprise in waiting – one day the bill will have to be paid in casualties”.
As far as personnel levels of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) are concerned, Heitman maintains it is under-strength for what it is supposed to do.
“We must either drop regional missions – risky as the region is our potentially most profitable export market because South Africa is the closest manufacturing economy but only if it is peaceful and stable,” or prune joint support and overhead organisations in the SANDF drastically.
Heitman emphasises the fact that there are personnel “who continue to call themselves human resources, which explains why they care so little about people”.
“There is some fat in the SA Air Force (SAAF) and a little in the SA Navy, but none in the Army. In terms of overall numbers there is some over-ranking and there are areas that could be thinned out.”
On the Ministerial assertion that legacy and irreparable equipment and ammunition should be disposed of, Heitman maintains the South African military machine is “too quick to throw away so-called ‘old equipment'”.
He gives the example of 400 Ratels sold at “bargain basement prices”.
“For very little money they could have been converted to APCs, reducing the required number of new armoured personnel carriers to replace the long-gone Buffel and some older Casspirs. Had we kept some Eland 90s we would have had a combat vehicle even the C-130 could have deployed to Bangui or Goma”.
Heitman is unsure whether acquisition and delivery of the mobility packages for Operation Corona duties is a waste of money or not. Why not use Mambas currently in storage he asked, adding the issue of them not being suitable holds little water.
“They were used in this role previously and have the added advantage of being bullet-proof.”
Heitman welcomed the Minister’s call to prioritise acquisition of domain awareness system to deliver more effective operations saying “the smaller the actual force, the more important awareness becomes”.
On Operation Copper, the Mozambique Channel anti-piracy deployment, he said: “The argument that we should withdraw patrols because there is no piracy overlooks the possibility that perhaps there is no piracy because there is a patrol. It is also imperative to prevent locals on both coasts even thinking of piracy as a career. That would be extremely difficult to counter given the nature of the coastlines. There is also anecdotal evidence patrols dramatically reduce ordinary maritime crime, from illegal fishing to smuggling”.