Military command needs to get on board Defence Review


With the far-reaching Defence Review being tabled in parliament on 3 July, one of the next steps towards implementation is getting military command to work out its implementation.

This is according to Nick Sendall, member of the Defence Review Committee, who said that the big debate now amongst the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is how to implement the Defence Review. Sendall said it would be a “long slog with military command”, but discussions are underway at present.

The 2012 Defence Review was tabled in Parliament on 3 July, after being approved by Cabinet on 19 March this year. It has been a long road getting the Review from concept to reality, with the approval process starting at the beginning of last year. Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has said that, “We do hope that, given its centrality to our planning, Parliament will treat the finalisation of the review as a matter of critical urgency.”

Sendall told delegates at a defence industry conference this week that the only way to take implementation forward is to take the Review into the government planning cycle and get treasury involved in the process.

The Defence Review notes that the SANDF is in decline, suffering from having equipment that is obsolete or unaffordable to operate, insufficient funding and major gaps in capabilities. Defence Review committee member John Gibbs said the Army is somewhat dysfunctional while there are significant air operations gaps in the SANDF. The Navy has similar problems and the capacity of the special forces is far below what is needed to be effective. Gibbs said there were “serious challenges” in the South African Medical Health Services as well. He predicted that, at the way the SANDF is going, it will end up being a border and coast guard.
“We are trying to run a defence force that is trying to do too much with too little,” Sendall said, with 58% of the budget spent on personnel and totally unacceptable spending on capital expenses. “When you get to that level you’re in serious trouble,” he said.

There is a major disconnect between the SANDF’s mandate and its abilities at present. Gibbs said that border safeguarding is not sustainable given the size of South Africa’s land and sea borders and the fact that the Navy only has a few ships with which to patrol 4.3 million square kilometres of ocean. Regarding peace support missions, Gibbs said that this capacity is completely unsustainable given the logistics involved and the shortage of troops, necessitating the heavy use of reserves. He pointed out that only when the defence budget is increased to 2.4% of GDP (R88 billion) would the defence force be able to make an adequate contribution on the continent. At this level of funding the defence force would have 189 000 personnel, 40% of whom would be reserves and 10% civilians.
“The question crucially posed by the review is: what is it that we want the Defence Force to do at home, in the region and the rest of the continent?” Mapisa-Nqakula has asked. “Once that question is answered, adequate resources must be allocated to enable the DoD to execute its mandate with the requisite effectiveness and efficiency.”

President Jacob Zuma’s June 2014 State of the Nation Address touched on some of the government’s goals the SANDF is expected to support. “South Africa will continue to support regional and continental processes to respond to and resolve crises, promote peace and security, strengthen regional integration, significantly increase intra-African trade and champion sustainable development in Africa,” Zuma said.
“The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been a source of national pride as it participated in peacekeeping missions in the continent. This role will continue and government is looking into the resourcing of the SANDF mandate in line with recently concluded Defence Review.”

The Review

The Defence Review has outlined the main goals of the SANDF: it must defend South Africa’s sovereignty, protect its vital interests and its ability to support political, economic and security interventions in Africa and enhance peace, security and development. Gibbs said implementation of the Defence Review recommendations “coupled to the required funding will ensure a defence capability the will give South Africa the gravitas it needs to change the security landscape and open the doors to significant economic benefit for the continent and itself.”

South Africa needs to protect four vital areas, Gibbs noted. The first is national sovereignty and territorial integrity, including airspace, islands, territorial waters, exclusive economic zone, extended continental shelf claims and the cyberdomain. Secondly, South Africa needs to secure its vital resources like minerals, energy and water. The third vital interest is to ensure the freedom to trade. The fourth vital interest is to work with partner states to achieve peace, security and stability in the region, creating conditions for economic growth and development and the expansion of markets in Africa.

Gibbs noted that there were a number of defence capability requirements needed to meet these four areas. Defence diplomacy needs to be optimised; domain awareness, intelligence and analysis needs to be enhanced; special forces need to be used more; combat forces must get better firepower and protection; the navy must have a versatile littoral force and a credible deep water capability; the air force needs comprehensive air combat and air mobility capabilities; health protection must be available to all deployed forces; deployments by air, land and sea need to be sustained for long periods, and the defence industry must be viable and responsible.

The Department of Defence is examining a 20-year Defence Development Plan split up into four Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) periods, each of five years. The first of these was starting in this financial year (2014/15) and would run to the 2018/19 financial year. The Programme aims to cover military strategy, force structure, force design, capability, acquisition plans and funding.

The first period MTSF goal is to arrest the decline of the SANDF. Outcomes include improving accountability, increasing funding, maximising United Nations peacekeeping reimbursements, giving direction to the defence industry, improving acquisitions, renewing and right-sizing personnel, establishing a Defence Academy and decentralising procurement.

Getting personnel and leadership right is critical to the Defence Review, as investment needs to be made in future leaders. Skilled people need to be retained while old, unskilled and sick personnel need to be exited from the SANDF.

The second period MTSF goal is to rebalance the SANDF by reorganising command, adjusting the budget, renewing selected equipment, increasing reserve deployments, and growing the intelligence, special forces, special operations forces and air mobility capabilities.

Third period milestones include improving the quality of military leadership, making sure soldiers are disciplined, creating a heavy combat capability that can be deployed and growing the medium combat, maritime patrol, air combat, strategic lift and landward logistics fleet capabilities.

The fourth and final period aim is to respond to challenges by ensuring adequate military capacity for sustained operations, have a fully functional defence industry and grow the heavy combat, maritime combat and military engineering capabilities. Once the fourth milestone has been reached, the SANDF would be capable of fighting a limited war, with a defence budget of R88 billion (2.4% of GDP) and 158 operational units.


One of the main philosophies of the Defence Review is that industry is an integral part of the defence force, as it provides equipment and support. Technology is a key critical enabler and has to be managed from the strategic to the tactical level. As a result, the Review strongly promotes the local defence industry.

This support will involve the establishment of a Defence Industry Council (to coordinate and align the industry), appointing a Chief Defence Scientist, developing a Defence Industry Strategy, and ensuring Denel, Armscor and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research are correctly aligned. Another recommendation is for the defence minister to publish a ten year public rolling capital plan to guide industry investment. This would be updated every three years.

The defence industry, Gibbs said, needs to meet several requirements, including strategic independence, sovereign capability in certain areas, cost effective equipment and services and economic benefit.

Key technology domains he identified include command and control, information warfare, secure communications, information technology, intelligence-gathering, unmanned systems, missiles and guided munitions, night and poor visibility sensors, electronic warfare, rugged tactical vehicles, mine and IED detection and protection technology, long range artillery, chemical, biological and radiological defence, battlefield medical care and modelling and simulation.