Satellites, gyrocopters & non lethal weapons needed to secure borders

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Satellites, gyrocopters and non-lethal weapons are needed to secure South Africa’s 4471km land border as part of Operation Corona. Major General Barney Hlatshwayo says two alarm fences along parts of the SA-Zimbabwe and SA-Mozambican border cost tens of millions of Rand to maintain and are subject to continuous vandalism by both man and beast. Neither are particularly effective when measured against the expense.

Hlatshwayo, the General Officer Commanding the Joint Operational Headquarters of the Joint Operations Division (J Ops) of the SA National Defence Force says the military also do not have the manpower to garrison the border, meaning technology and intelligence must be used as a force multiplier to allow the armed forces to discharge their mandate which is to exert state authority along SA’s borders. Two companies and the headquarters of 1 Parachute Battalion are currently deployed along the Limpopo River, but Hlatshwayo says this is insufficient. “I could give them a whole brigade (12 companies or more) and it would not be enough,” he said. In Mpumalanga a single Reserve Force company from Regiment de la Rey was patrolling a 60km frontier.

The general did not go into any particular detail on the technology required, other than to say they were being approached by various vendors in this regard. Satellite surveillance technology and gyrocopters were among some of the technologies proposed.

Hlatswayo added that J Ops now also had a requirement for specialised infantry to include horse mounted troops, motorcycles and dog handlers. He said the SA Army was re-establising the capability abandoned in March 2005 when 12 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion was disbanded. Based at Potchefstroom 12 SAI provided horse-mounted infantry, motorcyclists and dog handlers to SA Army units for area defence (counterinsurgency) purposes, Infantry Formation spokeswoman Major Merle Meyer said in a statement at the time. “This closure is part of the process to hand back to the SA Police Service functions and tasks that were given to the SA Army to execute some years ago,” Meyer said.

The military established a dog and equestrian centre at Thaba Tshwane in 1964. A decade later the equestrian centre was moved to the farm Welgegund at Potchefstroom. The dog centre moved to Bourke’s Luck, Mpumalanga, in 1979. The equestrian centre spawned a stud farm at De Aar in the Northern Cape in 1980. Cuts in the defence budget after 1989 forced the closure of the De Aar facility in 1991. In 1993 the equestrian and dog centres were reunited as 12 SAI.
“Over the years 12 SAI Bn was internally deployed on a continuous basis, especially in the role of border protection and several companies were deployed externally to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi with an excellent record,” Meyer said. “Recently, the members of 12 SAI Bn came to the rescue of other UN forces that were attacked by rebel forces. Meyer said the unit’s equestrian capability would be transferred to the police on April 14 at an official ceremony.

Its dogs and related infrastructure would go to the SA Military Health Service and the battalion’s motorcycle and visual tracking capabilities were being transferred to the Infantry School at Oudtshoorn, where the first course would start the next month.

Hlatswayo says this has now proven a mistake and he is keen to source motorcycle-transported troops for high mobility operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and mounted infantry for border patrol and crowd control.

Colonel Lucas Delport, Senior Staff Officer Planning on the Joint-5 (Long Term Planning) staff of the J Ops at a briefing at Swartkop on Tuesday last week said the SANDF would in future use a mobile approach to border security, rather than the static approach typified by the current alarm fences and the guard posts required to react to the alarms. Delport also indicated that companies deployed to border duty will be expanded from 150 to 180 in strength.

It was suggested at defenceWeb’s border control conference in March that Corona companies would be reinforced with Military Police as well as a battlefield surveillance sections. The latter would be drawn from 1 SA Tactical Intelligence Regiment that is equipped for that role with 14 Thales Squire ground surveillance radars and 65 Thales Sophie thermal imagers. Sources say equipment has been delivered under Project Cytoon for two squadrons with that of the third squadron on the way. These tools will be very useful in the border surveillance role. The unit may also, in time, receive unmanned aerial vehicles for the battlefield surveillance role.

This will allow a more proactive approach to deterring smuggling and other illegal crossborder activities. An inspection of the two fences by Hlatswayo and journalists last week showed that such activities were currently rife, mostly because a lack of maintenance have left the alarm systems along both borders out of order and allow smugglers and others to cut holes in the fence almost at will. The military redeployed with police powers along the two fences under Section 18(1)(d) of the Defence Act 42 of 2002 in May and currently have engineers deployed to patch the fence and prevent its further deterioration while new contractors are appointed to fix the fences, the alarm systems and the adjacent border patrol roads.

In the meantime, troops are patrolling the border fence to show a presence and deter blatant border crossing while others conduct intelligence-driven waylay operations, vehicle checkpoints an related operations up to 20km from the border. On both borders illegal migration – the avoidance of moving through a port of entry – is the main activity, while the main commodity smuggled is cigarettes. The main concern on both borders are that the holes cut in the fences are letting animals cross as well – placing animal husbandry in both Limpopo and Mpumalanga at risk to anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease. Animal or other agricultural products carried by migrants also pose a hazard, while migrants could pose a health risk.

Lieutenant Colonel Johan Herbst, the Staff Officer 1 (Landward) at the Limpopo Joint Tactical Headquarters (JTHQ) noted in a presentation the SANDF have arrested 369 821 migrants since 2000, with about 15 000 detained and handed over to the police or Department of Home Affairs this year. Colonel Patrick Bobelo, the Officer Commanding JTHQ Mpumalanga added his soldiers had detained 761 illegal border crossers since May 18, including 91 South Africans. Most were Mozambicans – who need only a valid passport to enter SA legally, no visa required – but also arrested were Nigerians, Somalis, Ethiopians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Congolese.

Frustrating the soldiers is that on hand over to Home Affairs the migrants are mostly given refugee or asylum permits under sections 22 and 31 of the Immigration Act. Hlatswayo, Herbst and Bobelo said this often caused soldiers to question why they were bothering to detain such migrants. This qualm does not extend to detaining smugglers or preventing animal migration. Herbst says soldiers have confiscated cigarettes with an excise value of R22.7 million since 2005 – money illegally withheld from the Treasury. Bobelo says cigarettes with a value of R2.4 million has been seized in his area. In addition, alcohol worth R17.9 million was confiscated as well as a number of three-legged cooking pots made from inferior grades of aluminum that taints and poisons food prepared in them.

Herbst added that soldiers recently pulled over a vehicle carrying perlemoen and a lance corporal was offered a bribe of R200 000 cash. The noncommisioned officer arrested the man. Officers say this highlights the threat of corruption and bribery – and th need for deployments to be supported by military police and counterintelligence assets. “The syndicates are smart, they have their own intelligence structures,” said Bobelo, whose troops have arrested several police officers for either providing information to criminal or who were smugglers themselves.

Border control is not cheap, however. According to the briefing by the Chief of Joint Operations (J Ops), Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima and his Chief Director for Operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz, told Parliament it cost R25 million to deploy a company to the border for a year. Briefing MPs about the for companies deployed in May – one also in KwaZulu-Natal – they further recommended the expenditure of R8 million on communications infrastructure, R5 million on base repair, R7 million to mend fences and R15 million for new “troop pack” patrol vehicles: Toyota 4×4 bakkies modified to carry five troops in a roll-cage.

By the time up to 16 companies are deployed in 2015, the cost may have climbed to R423 million. The Zimbabwean portion could cost R105 million a year:
3 Companies R75 million
1 Reserve Force Company: R8 million
1 Battalion headquarters: R2 million

Maintenance: NABOB fence: R14 million

Maintenance of four operational bases: R6 million

For the Mozambican and Swazi borders the provisional figure is R194 million:
6 Companies R150 million
2 Reserve Force Company: R16 million
1 Battalion headquarters: R2 million

Maintenance: NABOB fence: R14 million

Maintenance of six operational bases: R12 million

For Lesotho the interim numbers is R124 million.
4 Companies R100 million
2 Reserve Force Company: R16 million

Maintenance of four operational bases: R8 million

To equip an infantry company with new “troop packs” will cost R16 million, meaning a bill of R224 million for 14 companies. This includes the acquisition cost of a commercial-off-the-shelf vehicle, its modification for border security purposes and a maintenance contract. The communications equipment may have cost R65 million by 2015 and three new bases must be built (two in the Eastern Cape and one in the Free State) at a cost of R36 million, taking the total cost of the proposal to R458 million.



However, money will remain a problem. Hlatswayo says his division generally has about 200 million a year to pay for operations whether it be for border security, peacekeeping, securing elections or support the civil authority during strikes.