Progress being made in fixing SA Navy – Lobese

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Submarine and frigate refits, new inshore patrol vessels and a new hydrographic survey vessel are some of the markers of progress the SA Navy has reached on its Journey to Greatness, SA Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese has affirmed.

Speaking on 2 December at the SA Navy Gala Evening held at Unisa, Lobese said the SA Navy “is ready to rise again. The SA Navy has charted the course. I am leading the South African Navy to the Journey of Greatness.”

In his prepared remarks, he reminded guests that at last year’s SA Navy Gala Evening, he said the Navy had a mammoth task ahead, with an immediate focus of taking the navy back to where it belongs – at sea – in spite of the budget conundrum confronting it.

“I am very happy to report that the National Treasury has made R1.4 billion available over the three year’s medium cycle to refit our ships and submarines,” Lobese said during the Saturday evening function. “Very soon, Armscor will pronounce on the refit contractor who will work hard to complete the refits of one frigate and one submarine. The SA Navy, Armscor and the refit contractor will work hard together to get our ships to sea. This will allow our ships to again project the might of the SA Navy.”

Lobese explained that the Navy’s leadership has resolved to renew the organisation as part of its Journey to Greatness. “We have taken the fix and now we are plotting a way forward in realisation of this greatness,” he said, adding it will require collaboration and cooperation across the entire spectrum. “The Journey to Greatness is not a destination but an ongoing pursuit of growth and self-improvement.”

The SAN Chief reminded assembled guests that the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force has made some in-roads in terms of capacitation to better execute its mandate. “As recent as this past October in Durban, Damen Shipyards Cape Town delivered the second Multi Mission Inshore Patrol Vessel, SAS King Shaka Zulu,” Lobese said. The ship is undergoing Operational Training and Evaluation that will be followed by her commissioning.

“The commissioning will signify the operational capability of the ship and that she is ready to fulfil her duty in patrolling our long coastline against any maritime threats and criminals who think that they can undermine our country,” the Vice Admiral said.

The construction of the last Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessels, SAS Adam Kok, is on track and it is due to be delivered next year (SAS King Sekhukhune I is already in service). These new vessels are the first locally built large vessels for the SA Navy since 1986 following the SAS Drakensberg and three Warrior Class Strike craft that were built in Durban.

“The construction of the Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessels is a major rejuvenation of the South African shipbuilding industry. This industry is again emerging from its slumber, to take part in Government’s Operation Phakisa, which seeks to unlock the vast economic potential of the Blue Economy,” Lobese stated.

“These vessels will provide the SA Navy with a robust patrol capability due to their flexibility. Furthermore, they will have the ability to conduct multiple missions such as patrolling our coastal waters, conducting mine countermeasures, torpedo recovery and deep diving support operations.

“With the same hard-work and dedication we will see Project Hotel also come into fruition and yield the much needed relief that our hydrographers so desperately need. The aim of this project is to capacitate our hydrographic capability by replacing the ageing SAS Protea with a Hydrographic Survey Vessel and three Survey Motor Boats as well as upgrading the South African Naval Hydrographic Office production system,” he explained.
However, Lobese was adamant that the three new inshore patrol vessels are not enough to protect South Africa’s maritime resources from sea robbers. “In fact, we need 15 of these inshore patrol vessels, and at least 12 of the larger offshore patrol vessels. In addition to this we need two hydrographic survey vessels, as well as three combat support vessels. Should this not happen, we as your Navy will not be able to stop the ever-rising scourge of maritime crime and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.”

Returning to more positive developments, the SAN Chief revealed that the Chief Director Maritime Strategy, Rear Admiral Mkhonto, “is hard at work in ensuring the enhancements of the Maritime Domain Awareness Centres,” which will enable the SA Navy to respond swiftly to illicit and piracy activities in its waters.

“These Maritime Domain Awareness centres will allow the South African Navy to integrate and share our maritime picture with those of our neighbouring countries. There have been so many of my counterparts in our neighbouring countries who have pleaded with me to provide this cooperation with them. As you can imagine, threats to our maritime security requires a cooperative response. We simply cannot try to meet this challenge on our own, a properly functioning Maritime Domain Awareness network will be the eyes and ears of the security forces of the entire African continent,” he said.