The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has set up a planning committee for the implementation of the Defence Review as it slowly inches its way from concept to reality.
Chief of the South African Army, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo this morning told journalists that the review has been approved by cabinet and is with parliament for discussion and endorsement. “The Defence Review is posing a crucial question: what kind of defence force do we need…what tasks have to be undertaken? Once this question has been answered they will be required to resource the defence force adequately.”
“We are excited in the SA Army since there is movement on the Defence Review front aimed at bolstering our efforts towards fulfilment of the mandate that the constitution set on us, that of providing combat-ready forces to safeguard our borders and territorial integrity while also playing a role in laying a foundation from which social development would be possible. We are also mindful that the SA Army is not a social agent for socio-economic development and upliftment of the public,” Masondo told journalists at the SA Army annual media breakfast this morning.
“The Defence Review Report recommends a change in the approach on how the SANDF and SA Army in particular conduct business for us to fulfil our constitutional mandate. Our responsibility exceeds just doing border control and safeguarding the people of the Republic. We are a part of the global community that asks of us to become more involved on the African continent as part of the African Union and the United Nations.
“We have been aware of challenges that have been hindering our operations for a few years and have since reported that to our principals. It also gives us great joy that our requests are now being considered, albeit in a phased approach, depending on the availability of funds.”
Masondo said the first milestone of the Defence Review is to arrest the decline that is currently taking place within the Army. “If we are fortunate enough to have funds being availed we will arrest the decline and reprioritise the SANDF.”
The Defence Review would like to see defence spending increase to 2.4% of GDP but Masondo noted that because the economy is not performing well, with huge debts to service, “funding would be incremental and not immediate.” The Review ultimately would like to see the defence budget standing at R88 billion (double what it is at present) and 158 operational units. Masondo said he welcomed the cabinet’s intention through the Defence Review to improve the funding of the Defence Force.
Because of a lack of funding, most of the Army’s budget is going to salaries. “We are spending a huge portion of the defence budget on human resources. We should be spending 30% on operations, 30% on capital renewal and 40% on personnel. We are not there,” Masondo said, with salaries accounting for over half the defence budget (58%). “We are faced with challenges,” he added, with the budget shortage necessitating the use of funding from the operations budget to pay salaries, something which is “not an ideal situation.”
For the Army, Masondo said the Review would like the establishment of an armour brigade that will provide medium and heavy forces, which can be used for peace enforcement. “The Defence Review envisages the establishment of a motorised division, charged mainly with border safeguarding and internal protection tasks including peace support operations on the continent. It also envisages the establishment of a contingency brigade. This will allow for a rapid deployment instrument for the chief of the SANDF.”
“We are now actively on a drive to arrest the decline that renders our army unable to optimally reach the heights we would like to reach. The Defence Review makes it possible to continue full-scale force rejuvenation, revamp and in some cases, replace ageing equipment while at the same time addressing the issue of ageing, derelict facilities. The SA Army is moving forward and with that, there is a need to improve the conditions of our soldiers on the ground,” Masondo said.
The Army will in the next two years start receiving 238 Badger infantry fighting vehicles, recently took delivery of the Starstreak air-defence missile and aims to replace its Casspir, Mamba and Samil vehicles through Projects Sapula and Vistula. Although these projects are taking time, the implementation of the Defence Review means they could be accelerated.
In spite of its challenges, Masondo said the Army has done what was asked of it. “Over the years we have complied with ordered commitments, including external operations. The army is healthy. It has challenges here and there but it is managing them.”