No real increase in already stretched defence budget but boost for border security

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National Treasury has not given the Department of Defence (DoD) any real increase in funding over the next two years, but R3 billion is being allocated to strengthen border security.

Today (22 February), Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana delivered his 2023 budget speech, which revealed little good news for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The allocation of funds to the DoD in 2023/24 comes to R51.1 billion, decreasing slightly to R51.04 billion in 2024/25 before increasing to R53 billion in 2025/26. This compares with R50.8 billion for 2022/23 and R49.09 billion for the previous year.

Some good news is that National Treasury has allocated an additional R3.1 billion to the Department of Defence to enhance border security (air, land and maritime) and territorial integrity. “This allocation is expected to provide for the procurement of prime mission equipment and technology that will serve as a force multiplier in internal and external operations, as well as repair and maintain navy defence systems to improve maritime security.”

Over the three-year Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period, the South African National Defence Force will continue to maintain 15 units (against 22 ideally) for border safeguarding in the Free State, KwaZulu‐Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West. Additional investments in vehicle and technology are expected to amount to R500 million in 2024/25 and R200 million in 2025/26 in the Force Employment programme. This should help “maximise the impact of the units in reducing transnational crimes, the illegal flow of undocumented migrants and illicit economic activities.”

An additional R850 million is allocated in 2023/24 to support the deployment of the South African National Defence Force in Mozambique through Operation Vikela, on condition that personnel are deployed there beyond 2022/23.

To ensure maritime safety, in each year over the three-year period ahead, the South African Navy will continue to conduct a targeted four coastal patrols and spend 8 000 hours a year at sea.

An additional R1 billion allocation in 2023/24 will be used to procure or upgrade the “medium air transport capability”, which should help the SA Air Force (SAAF) ensure that 12 000 hours are flown per year over the medium term. “This will enhance the South African National Defence Force’s capability to transport troops and equipment during urgent internal and external deployments.” The SA Air Force is looking at either accepting second hand C-130 Hercules from the United States and/or upgrading the existing fleet.

The majority of the defence budget (61.6%), or R127.3 billion over the MTEF, is going to salaries, including an additional R2.5 billion for cost‐of‐living adjustments. “To ensure the department remains within the expenditure ceiling for compensation of employees, it will continue to implement various human resource reforms over the medium term. These include the implementation of the voluntary severance packages for South African National Defence Force personnel at an estimated cost of R800 million in 2023/24, reducing the number of reserve force person days to 1.9 million per year [for comparison, in the 2021/22 financial year, 3.2 million mandays were used], recruiting military skills development system intakes every alternate calendar year, and capping the annual increases of regimental and operational allowances.”

“In consultation with the department [of Defence], National Treasury conducted a spending review in 2021/22 that highlighted the need for efficiency improvements in the management of commuted overtime. In response to this, R188.2 million is reprioritised over the next 3 years from compensation of employees in the Military Health Support programme towards payments for capital assets – such as ambulances, X‐ray machines and deployable field medical equipment – within the same programme.”

Of the R51.1 billion allocated for 2023/24, Landward Defence will get R15.7 billion (down from R15.9 billion in 2022/23); Air Defence R7.1 billion (down from R6.3 billion); Maritime Defence R4.9 billion (up from R4.7 billion); Military Health Support R5.4 billion (down from R5.6 billion); Defence Intelligence R1 billion (down from R1.1 billion); and General Support R6.8 billion (up from R6.5 billion).

The SANDF will be able to tap into extra funding allocated to respond to national disasters – R695 million has been made available this financial year for immediate relief in the wake of flooding, and a further R1 billion will be available next year. “The contingency reserve will also be used to fund emergency responses, including as undertaken by the Defence Force.”

The total peace and security budget allocation for 2023/24 is R227.3 billion, with the police receiving R112.1 billion; the military and state security R52.7 billion; law courts and prisons getting R51.4 billion, and home affairs R11.1 billion.

Aerospace and defence analyst Dean Wingrin points out that the SA Air Force is struggling to keep its Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters flying, yet helicopter funds are down 30% for 2023/24, although the transport budget is increasing, indicating funding for new equipment or upgrades.

“The Navy will continue to struggle in getting its vessels to sea – the frigates and submarines are in desperate need of a mid-life refit. A meaningful mid-life upgrade is out of the question for both types,” he cautions. “With a loss of up-to-date offensive weapons and defensive systems and capabilities, the SA Navy may have to transition from a modern fighting force to a constabulary mission, if not yet done so already.”

Meanwhile, Wingrin warns that “the Army and Military Health Services are left to hobble on, just enough to keep alive, but not enough to maintain and grow. Will there be enough to rescue Project Hoefyster (the Badger infantry combat vehicle)?”

He concludes that the SANDF is so severely underfunded it cannot meet the commitments required of it in terms of its mandate and defence policy. “Costs are increasing by more than the small budget increase received, yet the SANDF is still required to deliver more with less.” He suggests either fully funding the SANDF according to the current Defence Review, or keep the funding and reduce the capabilities and missions required of it.