With seven new hulls coming its way over the next five to six years, the SA Navy is keeping its cards close to the chest on personnel requirements for the new acquisitions.
Armscor will start evaluating tenders for a new hydrographic vessel to replace the ageing SAS Protea at the end of next month. June 30 is also still currently the closing date for tenders for three offshore and three inshore patrol vessels for the maritime arm of service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
When the new patrol vessels come into service they will need ship’s companies of around the 45 mark (offshore) and 35 for the smaller inshore platforms. Each platform will also accommodate at least a Maritime Reaction Squadron section and a SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) team when at sea.
In seagoing terms that means the Navy will have to recruit and train in the region of 300 sailors for the patrol vessels.
This is not seen as an insurmountable obstacle for the Navy, already hamstrung in many areas of proficiency and skills.
Rear Admiral Sagaren Pillay, Director Maritime Strategy at Navy headquarters in Pretoria, said: “There is a clearly formulated personnel plan that will address the manning of future acquisitions”.
He also pointed out regular targeted recruiting drives are held and that the Navy also recruits from its military skills development (MSD) intakes. This year the maritime arm of service was allocated 214 of these volunteers, the second highest but still a long way off the 1,574 who find themselves in various SA Army formations.
The new patrol vessels will have Durban as their home port. The naval infrastructure there is in the process of being upgraded to that of a naval base, having been downgraded to a naval station when the then Minister Class strikecraft were taken out of service. Three of those platforms have been refurbished and currently provide the Navy with its only offshore patrol capacity with the Valour Class frigates the sharp end as far as blue water capability is concerned.
The SA Navy is also receiving two harbour tugs.
As of March 31 last year, the Navy had 7,702 personnel on strength, against a planned figure of 7,306. It is the second smallest arm of service in the SANDF after the SA Military Health Services.