SANDF acquisition priorities revealed

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The acquisition focus of the South African National Defence Force in the near term will be on crisis response, border security and force projection as well as sustainment in a peace support context. That’s the word from the 2012 Defence Review, released last Thursday.

“Prioritisation of defence acquisition is driven by the interaction between the evolving strategic situation and the composition and equipment state of the Defence Force,” it reads. “This is, therefore, also an evolving process during which priorities will be adapted to match operational requirements.”

From the medium term onwards, it will be necessary to re-equip the medium and heavy forces and the relevant supporting elements to ensure that they retain deterrent credibility and provide deployable peace enforcement and conflict containment capability. “Some of the projects to meet medium term requirements will have to commence during the near term to ensure that those capabilities are available in the medium term, partly because of the numbers required (for instance of vehicles, which are optimally built and delivered over an extended period) and partly because of long lead times (for instance in building and commissioning ships).”
Immediate capability enhancement

Capabilities that need immediate work, the review reads, include extending the Special Forces (SF). “Terrorism and paramilitary threats will be a factor that South Africa must reckon with in the near term and over the coming decades, both in the context of South Africa’s expanded regional security role and as direct challenges or threats. Countering those challenges or threats will require enhancing and expanding the capabilities of the SF by enhancing Special Forces capability requires acquisition of additional equipment, weapons and systems, which may include a small number of dedicated aircraft of several types for insertion/extraction operations; and expanding SF capability requires establishment of additional units focused on particular missions, for instance urban counter-terrorism, and the acquisition of the relevant equipment, weapons and systems.”

A second challenge is border safeguarding. “The Defence Force has been assigned the mission of border safeguarding. This will require establishing additional units, and acquisition of equipment, weapons and systems optimised for that role, including agile, protected patrol vehicles; surveillance equipment, such as fixed and mobile acoustic, optronic and radar sensors and unmanned air vehicles, particularly micro-UAVs for patrol-level use; a static backbone communications system integrated with tactical air/ground and Police communications systems; non-lethal weapons of several kinds; and a data collation/fusion system to facilitate intelligence-led operations.”

Third is airspace surveillance and protection. “A related requirement is for enhanced air space surveillance and protection, which will require acquisition of static, mobile and airborne radar systems able to acquire and track aircraft flying low and using terrain-masking; and aircraft able to intercept and shadow suspect aircraft flying at low altitudes and low speeds.”

Next follows extended maritime security. “The expansion of Somali-based piracy into the Mozambique Channel has highlighted the importance and urgency of expanding South Africa’s maritime security capability. The immediate requirements include maritime surveillance or patrol aircraft; offshore patrol vessels; inshore patrol craft; additional shipboard helicopters; and equipment for shoreline patrols.”

Fourth follows a crisis response capability. “South Africa’s expanding regional security responsibilities require the development of an effective crisis response capability beyond that inherent in Special Forces. This requires acquisition of suitable equipment and weapons for the parachute and air-landed battalion groups, including protected vehicles that can be transported by medium transport aircraft and light vehicles that can be delivered by parachute; expansion and rejuvenation of the medium airlift capability; establishment of a heavy/long-range airlift capability that, together with the expanded medium airlift capability, will enable the Defence Force to deploy a parachute battalion group or an air-landed battalion group within 48 hours from South Africa to anywhere within the continental SADC region, to support local forces; or a forward base within the SADC continental SADC region to anywhere in a contiguous country.” It further requires the establishment of an in-flight refuelling capability to enable effective fighters support for crisis response deployments; and to enable extended range Special Forces operations.
Urgent capability enhancement

Urgent capability enhancement requirements exist where Defence Force lacks adequate capability to perform likely near/medium term missions, and where existing equipment is obsolete and must be replaced if key capabilities are to be retained, the review avers.

There are seven capability areas involved:

Infantry Combat Vehicles. The mechanised infantry battalions have wide utility, being suited to peacekeeping in high-risk situations and to peace enforcement, and forming a key element of deterrent capability. The Ratel vehicle family is obsolete, old (30 years) and difficult to maintain, and must be replaced urgently if the mechanised infantry is to remain credible and effective. [Project Hoefyster]

Armoured Personnel Carriers. Armoured personnel carriers are the main equipment of the motorised infantry battalions, which form the core of peace-support capability, and are vital elements of other units, including the medical battalion groups of the Military Health Service. There are three related requirements for new APCs: The Casspir and Mamba armoured personnel carriers of the motorised infantry no longer provide adequate protection against weapons available to irregular forces and bandits, are old (30 years) and difficult to maintain, and must be replaced urgently if these units are to remain effective; the Mfezi protected ambulances of the medical battalion groups are equally old and difficult to maintain, and must also be replaced; and the spread of improvised explosive devices into Africa further means that there is a requirement for ‘mine-resistant/ambush-protected’ (MRAP) patrol vehicles and personnel carriers to equip a proportion of these units. [Project Sapula]/Sepula]

Logistic Vehicles. No defence force can function without reliable logistic vehicles that are suited to the nature of its operations and the terrain of the theatre of operations. The existing Samil fleet of trucks is old (30 years) and difficult to maintain, and will lack the mobility to effectively support modern combat vehicles. “The bulk of the fleet must be replaced with suitable vehicles, including protected variants, as a matter of urgency.” [Project Vistula]

Light Artillery. Several recent conflicts in Africa have demonstrated an escalation in the capability and level of aggression of the forces involved, including serious attacks on peacekeeping units. “The Army needs light artillery that can be deployed quickly as a part of a rapid deployment peace support contingent, to provide counter-battery and defensive fires to protect airfields and bases. It currently has no such artillery, although a suitable 105 mm long-range gun and ammunition family are in development.” [Project Musuku/Masuku]

Aerial Weapons. “The Air Force must urgently acquire suitable weapons for the Gripen, the Hawk (in its alternate light attack role) and the Rooivalk if these aircraft are to be able to support ground forces effectively.”

Combat Support Ships. The extension of the Navy’s area of operations to include the Mozambique Channel and its approaches, and the likelihood of a further extension to counter piracy along the west coast of Africa, requires urgent acquisition of a second combat support ship to enable frigates and offshore patrol vessels to be employed efficiently. “That ship must be followed by replacement of SAS Drakensberg, which has been in service since 1987.”

The review further reads that there are also many requirements for enabling or supporting equipment that is essential to the effective employment of deployed forces. Among them are the replacement of old and unsuitable water purification, field kitchen and field accommodation equipment; the replacement of obsolete field workshop equipment; the replacement of old field hospital equipment; and the re-establishment of the Air Force tactical airfield unit capability, to enable support of aircraft away from Air Force bases.
“The Defence Force must also acquire communications systems and related equipment suited to both its deterrent role and its regional and continental security responsibilities.” Another urgent requirement is to acquire munitions and explosives of all kinds to allow effective live-fire and explosives training and the rebuilding of stocks.
Longer-term force rejuvenation and capability expansion

“Given the long-term nature of defence planning and defence acquisition planning, it is wise to also set out some key longer-term equipment requirements that will arise if the Defence Force is to remain an effective deterrent and is to meet South Africa’s regional security responsibilities,” the review’ writers say. Some of these projects will have to be initiated in the near term if the required capabilities are to become available within a reasonable period, it adds. They include:

Expeditionary Operations. “If the Defence Force is to meet South Africa’s growing regional and continental security responsibilities, it must develop the capability to deploy and sustain medium forces outside the SADC region. That will require the development of a sealift capability that will enable the deployment of a mobile battalion group in a single lift; and the retention of one sealift platform offshore the deployment area to serve as a secure helicopter base, headquarters and logistic base for the landed force, while follow on forces are brought up by air and sea. That will require acquisition of at least two and preferably three ‘joint support ships’ with full helicopter operations capability and the ability to deploy landing craft to allow forces to be put ashore in the absence of a functioning harbour.” [Project Millennium]

Air Defence. “The Defence Force currently lacks any modern air defence weapons other than a single battery of very short range missiles (Starstreak). There are, therefore, clear requirements to acquire additional ‘very short range’ missiles to enable deployed units to protect themselves against air attack in a country in which a peace enforcement operation is taking place, be it by disaffected or hostile air force elements or by improvised attack aircraft such as used in Biafra in the 1960s and Sri Lanka in the 1990s; acquire mobile and mechanised air defence systems for medium forces that may be deployed for peace enforcement; and to ensure credible deterrence by providing for the protection of air bases, critical installations and deployed forces.” [GBADS: Projects Guardian, Outcome, Protector]

Main Battle Tank. “The main battle tank remains a core element of mobile forces in the deterrent role, and recent operations in several parts of the world (including Bosnia and Kosovo) [as well as Iraq and Afghanistan] have demonstrated the very considerable value of the main battle tank in peace enforcement and similar operations. The current Olifant is essentially a [1940s] tank that has undergone several upgrades, and is now obsolete in almost all respects. While it can be retained for a time as a training system, it is no longer credible as part of deterrent capability and lacks the reliability to be effective in supporting a peace enforcement operation, and must, therefore, be replaced as soon as possible.” [Project Aorta]

Medium Transport/Attack Helicopter. “While the Oryx will remain effective through 2020, it is essential to begin planning for its replacement now, as replacing the Oryx will probably require development of a ‘hot and high’ optimised variant of the type selected. That is a factor that could provide interesting opportunities for the South African industry, if the new helicopter will be acquired in numbers adequate to South Africa’s actual needs in the context of its regional and continental security responsibilities.” Those opportunities could include the development of the new variant together with the parent company (as was done with Oryx); the manufacture of the helicopter for the Air Force; the manufacture, in agreement with the parent company, of additional helicopters of this ‘hot and high’ variant for other air forces with similar requirements; and the development of a Rooivalk replacement on the basis of the new helicopter.