The South African Army is aiming to repair 4 200 of its vehicles under Operation Thusano, using Cuban technicians to work on South African vehicles and train South African National Defence Force personnel.
Ninety-three Cuban technicians arrived in South Africa in February on a year-long contract to both refurbish vehicles and assist the SANDF build capacity and train mechanics.
In a briefing to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula at 102 Field Workshop in Potchefstroom on Thursday, Army officials said that 1 105 Samil 20s, 1 667 Samil 50s and 1 240 Samil 100s will be repaired. Another 190 of these vehicles are to be back-loaded, bringing the total to 4 202.
515 vehicles have been earmarked for deactivation, including 190 Samil 20s, 100 Samil 50s, 123 Samil 100s, 7 Casspirs and 95 ‘others’. A large number of vehicles will also be preserved, including 357 in long term storage and 121 in short term storage. Of these, 35 Casspirs and 31 Ratels will be repaired when funds are available. A total of 115 Mamba Mk 2 and 3s will be preserved, 115 Casspirs and 128 Ratels as well as 50 Samil 50s.
According to the Cuban delegation, 450 vehicles have been made serviceable again through medium repairs and 469 through light repairs for a total of 919. 2 918 vehicles have been inspected and their fate decided on.
The South African Army possess more than 10 000 A and B vehicles with 2 000 diesel mechanics assigned to look after them. Vusi Masondo, South African Army chief, said that the Army was faced with a big problem whereby it was spending a lot of money on maintaining vehicles through the private sector, but that these would quickly break down. “We set ourselves a 60% level of serviceability but we were not able to achieve that.” This was affecting the Army’s ability to deploy, he said.
Brigadier General Elvis Mathaba, Director of Army Logistics, said the main aim of Operation Thusano is to create a sustainable system of transport for the SA Army. He said private industry was not delivering quality service to the SANDF, was not properly repairing vehicles and was reselling spares back to the Army. Private industry had also colluded to create a spare parts monopoly.
Operation Thusano was subsequently implemented to improve the serviceability of the SA Army’s prime mission equipment and to empower the SA Army in terms of transport and technical capabilities so it is less reliant on the private sector for maintenance and repair.
The Cubans have been working with South African personnel to ensure skills transfer. A typical maintenance and repair team comprises a Cuban and South African engineer/mechanic and four South African apprentices. In total, 251 South African apprentices have been trained under Operation Thusano. The South African Army has also sent a group of engineers to Cuba for training.
Maintenance and repair is being done at four locations: Bloemfontein, Technical Services Unit in Lyttelton, Wallmansthal and Potchefstroom. Nine Cuban personnel are working on repairing ambulances at 8 Medical Battalion in Lyttelton.
In February 2015 it was decided that 102 Field Workshop at Potchefstroom would concentrate on vehicles in the North West area, with 230 Samils earmarked to be repaired. So far, 12 Samil 20s, 28 Samil 50s and 80 Samil 100s have been completed by 102 Field Workshop while 11 vehicles are under repair.
As part of the maintenance and repair process, a number of new capabilities were developed at 102 Field Workshop, including an auto-electrical section, trimmers section, spray painting section and engine test station. In total, across the country four engine test benches have been built under Operation Thusano. Mathaba said that when maintenance and repair was outsourced to industry, a lot of capabilities were lost, such as spray painting, body building and welding and that these have capabilities been revitalised.
R200 million a year has been budgeted for Operation Thusano, which has saved millions of rands already. For instance, repairing 122 vehicles at 102 Field Workshop has saved R36 million. Mathaba said that fixing a vehicle under Operation Thusano cost R137 000, versus R500 000 a vehicle for repair by private industry. He said that although the private sector is not happy about Thusano, there is still need for industry for things like fault line repairs.
The Cuban delegation has not just targeted Army vehicles, but has also preserved 243 ‘aviation bombs’, re-established the serviceability of four aviation test equipment units, made recommendations to the Air Force and diagnosed electro medicine equipment. Cuban personnel have been active at places like Langebaan and Bloemspruit.
Mapisa-Nqakula said she was very excited about the project, which was something “we all need to support. Industry may have its own problems but they can see what we are doing here and appreciate why.”
The SA Army said that Operation Thusano is part of Milestone One of the 2014 Defence Review: Arresting the Decline of the SANDF.
Due to progress with Thusano, Projects Sepula and Vistula, for the replacement of SA Army trucks and light armoured vehicles, has been deferred.