The South African navy is looking at the eventual replacement of the combat support ship SAS Drakensberg, since the maritime arm of service takes great strain when the vessel is out of action for maintenance. Several platforms could be acquired to replace the nearly 30-year old vessel.
Studies have commenced into a potential replacement for the Drakensberg, according to Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Bravo Mhlana, who made the remarks during his state of the Navy briefing last week.
“We are presently taking serious strain as the Drakensberg, for the last one and a half years, has been going through major maintenance,” Mhlana stated. “When it is not there, you are very limited in terms of reach, in terms of sustainment of the operations in distant areas.”
Mhlana said that Drakensberg is a useful ship and a major force multiplier and consequently studies have commenced into a potential replacement. “The replacement class may end up being more than one vessel as we really feel Drakensberg’s absence when she goes into an extended maintenance period.”
“We probably need two Drakensbergs and we probably need to build more ‘sealift’ into the class,” he continued, “this is something we have come to realise over the last decade or so.”
In addition to being used as a replenishment ship, SAS Drakensberg has also been used to patrol for pirates in the Mozambique Channel as part of Operation Copper. In April 2012 she helped European warships catch seven Somali pirates in the Channel.
While the SAS Drakensberg replacement is most likely years away, the South African Navy can look forward to receiving a number of new platforms before then and will introduce four new classes of vessels (offshore patrol vessels, inshore patrol vessels, harbour tugs and a hydrographic survey ship) within the next five years.
Two new harbour tugs are under construction, with the first scheduled for delivery in June this year. In the longer term, the Navy has commenced with engineering studies to upgrade the frigates and submarines in order to maximise their operational lives.
Looking into the future, the Navy will replace its Warrior class offshore patrol vessels when the first new Project Biro offshore and inshore patrol vessels arrive in 2018. Around the same time, a replacement for the hydrographic survey SAS Protea (under Project Hotel) will be delivered.
SAS Drakensberg was launched in April 1986 by Sandock Austral and commissioned into service in November the following year. She has a full load displacement of 12 500 tons and a length of 147 metres. She can carry 5 500 tons of fuel, 750 tons of ammunition and dry stores and 210 tons of fresh water. In addition, 50 000 litres of fresh water can be made every day. Two Oryx helicopters, two landing craft and two RHIBs can be accommodated on board as well.
The Drakensberg is the largest ship built in South Africa to date and is reportedly the first naval vessel to be completely designed in the country. In addition to her replenishment role she is employed on search and rescue duties, patrol and surveillance duties and has considerable potential for use in disaster relief.