Gloomy picture of SANDF prime mission equipment readiness

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Expanding on his belief that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is in “intensive care”, Kobus Marais provided National Assembly (NA) parliamentarians with highly concerning prime mission equipment (PME) availability and serviceability statistics.

Responding to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise’s budget vote address this week, the Democratic Alliance shadow minister for her portfolio gave a number of examples to support his view of a national defence force in dire straits.

There are, according to him, just two of 11 homegrown Rooivalk combat support helicopters airworthy. When it comes to maritime rotary-wing aircraft, only one of the four Super Lynx specialist helicopters is available for use.

The SA Air Force (SAAF) rotary wing workhorse – the locally developed Oryx medium transport helicopter – is marginally better off, with Marais’ research showing six of 39 airworthy.

This, he maintains, when taken alongside the minimum availability of C-130BZ medium transport aircraft, impacts on training for SA Army airborne units ahead of deployment. Marais refers specifically to Makhanda-based 6 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion, one stop on a recent Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) oversight visit to Eastern Cape.

28 Squadron, the sole SAAF medium transport unit, has just one of six of the ageing C-130BZs it can put in the air.

Apart from use as a jump platform by airborne troops, the venerable Hercules is regularly tasked with logistic flights to the South African contingent in Cabo Delgado, part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM).

“We cannot provide logistic support to our soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique with a lone C-130. The consequence is we have to charter aircraft at hundreds of millions a year – spending enough to buy C-130s,” he told the NA.

Other examples which, he said, “mirror the dire state” of the SANDF, include two of 26 Gripen jet fighters available, three of 11 Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers, and two of 25 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainers. When it comes to aircraft for maritime patrol, reconnaissance, search and rescue (SAR) – a tasking supposedly shared between the venerable C-47TP and C-130BZ – not one, Marais found, was mission ready.

Only one of the SA Navy’s four frigates is operational and one of three submarines. The situation should improve somewhat going forward as National Treasury allocated R1.4 billion to refit the frigates and submarines and R1 billion to make six C-130BZs airworthy again.

The SANDF is chronically underfunded. Modise said this week the national defence force is underfunded by approximately R2.6 billion this year: the DoD received a total budget allocation of R51.1 billion for the 2023/24 financial year, a net decrease of R500 million from the previous adjusted budget.

In March, Major General Thembelani Xundu said to rejuvenate and re-equip the SANDF to make it a truly effective force would cost R41 billion over 25 years.

There was – at the time of publication – no reaction to Marais’ claims from either the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC), the Department of Defence Head of Communication (HOC) or the Defence Ministry.