South Africa’s self-protection requirement

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Previous articles considered South Africa’s self-protection: protecting our borders, maritime zones and air space, our vital infrastructure and our vital external interests against threats short of war.

Before going on to consider South Africa’s wider strategic interests and requirements of classic deterrence and defence, it is perhaps as well to sum up what is required for the self-protection mission set, and to give a rough idea of cost.

The paragraphs that follow set out the forces required for the self-protection task by combat service. They do not include the Military Health Service or the overhead command and control, training and logistic elements. This is, of course, only one person’s view, and there can be many variations on the theme. That said, the overall force level and cost is unlikely to differ markedly unless capability is markedly reduced.

The force levels required of the Army for the basic self-protection mission set would comprise:
• Six dedicated border patrol battalions, probably reporting through three sector HQs.
• A motorised brigade of three battalions (to secure energy supplies from Mozambique).
• An infantry battalion (to secure Maputo port together with the Navy).
• an air assault battalion to secure the critical elements of the Lesotho Highlands system.
• A protection force and reaction teams to provide protection teams for vital infrastructure.
• Two field engineer regiments (with construction capability) to support the other forces.

For contingencies we might add another motorised brigade, to provide relief and reinforcement force elements, but again comprising only three infantry battalions.

A rough estimate based on calculations done for the Defence Review and adjusted for inflation, suggests that this force would cost some R6.6 billion annually, plus another R1 billion annually for equipment maintenance, upgrade and partial replacement, for a total of R7.6 billion. That does not include the cost of infrastructure – command and control, training units, workshops, depots and magazines.

Adding a single regular mechanised brigade to have some ‘punch’ within the Army, would add some R3 billion annually if using existing or already funded equipment.

The force levels required of the Navy for this mission set would comprise:
• 10 OPVs with embarked helicopters.
• A deployable port protection unit (to secure Maputo port).
• Port security and mine countermeasures teams in each of the six major ports.

Adding two support ships would greatly enhance the effectiveness of the Mozambique Channel patrols, and those ships could also take on Marion Island patrols. Important to bear in mind, is that those ten OPVs would be the full OPV fleet, and not all operational at the same time. The normal availability would lie between six and eight, depending on refits, minor maintenance and sea training requirements.

A rough estimate based on calculations done for the Defence Review and adjusted for inflation, suggests that this force would cost some R2 billion annually, plus another R2.5 billion annually for the acquisition of ships and helicopters spread over ten years, after which there would be a drop in capital expenditure for roughly a decade. That does not include the Navy’s infrastructure – command and control, training units, workshops, depots, magazines and the Naval Dockyard. It also does not include a hydrographic survey ship, although that task could in future be largely handled using off-board systems from an OPV tasked for that purpose, as could mine-countermeasures.

Assuming the four frigates (with four Super Lynx) and the three submarines are retained to give the Navy some combat potential, that would add another R1.7 billion annually. The frigates could, of course, take on some of the routine patrol work, which would allow the OPV force to be cut to eight, reducing the capital expenditure over the first decade.

The force levels required of the Air Force for this mission set (aircraft on the flight line) would comprise:
• 12 Gripens for air space protection.
• 12 armed PC-7 Mk 2s (border patrol; pipeline patrol; converting existing aircraft).
• 12 Caravans (border surveillance; pipeline surveillance).
• 12 Rooivalk (support for pipeline protection force and for air assault battalion).
• 36 Oryx (support border, pipeline protection and air assault forces).
• 4 C-27J (support pipeline protection force).
• 4 fixed radars.
• 10 mobile radars.
• 8 maritime surveillance aircraft.

A rough estimate based on calculations done for the Defence Review and adjusted for inflation, suggests that this force would cost some R2.2 billion annually, plus some R1.2 billion annually over a decade for acquisition or conversion (PC-7 Mk 2) aircraft, for a total of R3.4 billion per year. That does not include the Air Force infrastructure or training aircraft, nor does it include the cost of the aircraft that it must have on hand to sustain the numbers set out here, which will vary by type. For the more complex aircraft that can mean about double the required operational force, so the present Gripen force is probably about right, with a small reserve capability in hand, and the Rooivalk force is too small even for the basic self-protection mission set.

An expanded and enhanced Special Forces capability, including some dedicated light transport aircraft and medium helicopters would cost some R1.7 billion annually, plus another R1.2 billion annually over five years to upgrade infrastructure and acquire some equipment, for a total of R2.9 billion.

Summing Up:

Army R7.6 billion (+ R3 billion for a mechanised brigade)

Navy R4.5 billion (+ R1.7 billion for the frigates and submarines)

Air Force R3.4 billion

Special Forces R2.9 billion

R18.4 billion + R4.7 billion = R23.1 billion



Add to this the infrastructure of each of the combat services, the overhead command and control structure, an effective defence intelligence system and the Military Health Service, and we are close to the present defence budget. And all we have funded is basic self-protection with a small manoeuvre capability in the form of a single mechanised brigade, four frigates and three submarines.