Years of underfunding, coupled with ever increasing demands on the South African military machine, have and are creating more and more difficult conditions for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to work effectively.
SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, said funding shortages were evidencing themselves in, among others, a lack of progress on new equipment acquisition; no suitable exit mechanism for “elderly” members of the Army to leave the force; facilities that needed urgent repair to make them properly habitable and insufficient, “not the right” recruits coming through the military skills development system.
He told a media briefing at the Army College in Thaba Tshwane that the Army’s current budget was R10.9 billion but would not be drawn on what he felt was a sufficient allocation for the landward component of the SANDF to be able to do its work properly.
“Overall, I would like to see the total defence budget at around two percent of the Gross Domestic Product but bearing in mind the many socio-economic demands government faces, this will be difficult.
“I would have to say without putting any monetary value on it that the SANDF should have a budget that is appropriate to the tasks it is given,” he said.
Apart from continental deployments in support of both AU and UN peacekeeping and peace support missions, the Army is the major contributor to Operation Corona, the national border protection initiative which also includes anti-rhino poaching actions in the Kruger National Park.
Masondo’s men and women are also engaged in operations other than war (OOTW) by supporting a number of government programmes, other government departments and supporting the people of South Africa.
With all this tasking, the three star general sees the current Defence Review process as being of the “utmost importance” regarding the future strategy and force design of not only his arm of service but the entire SANDF.
In terms of the Army, Masondo sees the Review as bringing the landward force in line with national and international obligations, particularly regarding accepted standards for personnel rotation, protective measures and logistic support.
“However, within a limited medium term budget we will have to find the means to not only regenerate ourselves but also to position ourselves to be able to comply with future demands on our resources.
“At present the Army is under strain to fulfil its national and international obligations as our forces become more and more in demand. There is an increase in requests for internal and external support that has led to the Army deploying available force levels for extended periods. These exceed what is deemed the international norm. Such strain can only be sustained for a limited period after which mission readiness can become compromised,” he warned.
As an example he cited the Engineer Formation.
It has been the sole contributor in building numerous bridges to provide rural communities better access to water, roads and other infrastructure as part of the Army’s social responsibility programme. Army engineers are also in high demand on continental deployments because of their expertise and there are insufficient numbers of them to be able to do all the work required of them.
“This is an Army Formation where the strain is now being felt,” he said.
Picture: The SA Army Combat Training Centre at Lohatla