Treasury spells out defence policy – or does it?


The National Treasury’s Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) document for defence and military veterans says South Africa’s short term (one year) “key defence policy is to prepare, maintain and employ current defence capabilities.”

The document adds the medium term objectives are to create an affordable and sustainable force structure and right-size and rejuvenate its human resources. The long term focus (10 years), is on attaining the optimal level of competencies, technology and force structure to defend and protect South Africa and its territorial integrity.

Defence policy, as expressed by the Department of Defence is currently in a state of flux as it is widely accepted the 1996 White Paper on Defence and 1998 Defence Review are out of date. The DoD announced an update of these in 2004,but to date no document ha emerged for public debate.

The ENE document elsewhere notes R7 million was spent on consultants in FY2008/09 and R4 million for the same in FY2009/10, “most of which was used by the Defence Institute, which assisted the department with the defence update and the defence strategy 2030.”

The DoD Annual Report for FY2007/8, published in October 2008, came closest to publishing a new policy by stating SA will have to substantially increase military spending after the Soccer World Cup to build a credible force design. The report said the Defence Update policy review document then under consideration – but reportedly since scrapped – saw a need to boost defence budget from the current about R30 billion to R41.3 billion in the 2011/12 financial year.

The current budget amounts to about 1.2% of Gross Domestic Product that compares well with the International Monetary Fund cap of 2% and the US, which is spending 4%. In more measurable terms, the defence force that plays a major part in realising SA`s foreign policy, receives just five cents out of every rand the government spends. The bulk of the other 95 cents is spent on health, education and policing, according to subject experts, often to disappointing effect.

The report says the budget increase will allow the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to “largely attain” its Credible Force Design (CFD) by 2025 and fully realise it by 2031. The CFD will require spending to reach R45 billion in 2017 and R46 billion by 2023 “when it should stabilise”. The report also foresaw the expansion of the SANDF regular force from 70 000 to 88 000 and the reserves to 70 000.

Most of the extra funding and personnel was to have been channelled into the “landward capability” meaning the SA Army, the Special Forces and that slice of their sister services and divisions that act in their support. “The SANDF`s landward forces will be modernised and renewed, with first prioritisation being the light and motorised forces, airborne forces, intelligence and engineer elements used mainly in the support of international commitments and concomitant air and maritime inter- or intra-theatre lift.”

The last was a reference to the Air Force`s now-cancelled Project Continent, the acquisition of eight Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft and the Navy`s Project Millennium, the purchase of up to two “strategic support ships” capable of carrying about a dozen helicopters and about 800 soldiers, their equipment and vehicles. “The second prioritisation will be the conventional and mechanised elements of the SANDF`s landward capability, such as mechanised infantry, artillery, air defence artillery and armour.”

The annual report added that the increase in spending and personnel was necessary in light of SA`s “significant role in the promotion of continental peace and security… Whereas the 1998 Defence Review envisaged that external commitments would be limited to the deployment of a single battalion (approximately 1 000 soldiers), force levels deployed in support of international commitments already exceed 4 500 soldiers.”

Should only limited funding be forthcoming – as now appears to be the case with the budget increasing by just 5.1% to R36.3 billion in 2012 from a trimmed R30 billion this year – a second option would be to partially attain the CFD. Under this model, which neither the annual report nor the update recommended, the SANDF “will have to focus on those landward programmes that are critical for the fulfilment of SA`s international obligations and commitments as ordered by government” such as the SANDF Operational Reserve, the requirements for UN and AU peace missions, humanitarian and disaster assistance and the contributions for the SADC brigade and AU Standby Force.

This option places “emphasis on the SANDF`s motorised infantry battalions, airborne and other rapid entry forces, military engineering capabilities, tactical intelligence, logistics support systems, military health capabilities and other appropriate combat support elements for the abovementioned forces. “The mechanised elements (armour, mechanised infantry and artillery) in the landward conventional capability would have been retained in survival mode with life extension programmes and little direct renewal of prime mission equipment.”

If no money can be found for the CFD, the SANDF will have to shrink to a size that “is both viable and sustainable over the long term. The SANDF would be partially able to meet ordered commitments. However, significant risks and limitations would exist,” the report warned. “The best possible output within the budget, with the best balance of forces, would be sought. Certain defence capabilities are reduced and other defence capabilities are completely lost.”

All eyes are on defence and military veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s budget vote later this year.

Pic: A M5 120mm mortar of 4 Artillery Regiment about to fire in support of parachute infantry during Exercise Young Eagle 2006 at the De Brug training area west of Bloemfontein.