Biro RfI issued: Jane’s


The South African Navy (SAN) has issued a request for information (RfI) for both offshore and inshore patrol vessels, Jane’s understands from SAN sources. The new vessels are to be acquired under Project Biro to replace the remaining strike craft and minehunters acquired in the 1970s and 1980s and will complement the SAN’s four MEKO A200 frigates, Jane’s Defence Weekly (JDW) reported earlier this month.

JDW correspondent and defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman says the RfI is intended as a market scan to give the SAN “a clear idea of what is on the market.” The RfI follows a request for quotation (RfQ) issued to the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town in April for “strategic technology and engineering support services during the project study phase of the acquisition of a multi-mission patrol capability”. The RfQ, EMTM/2011/16, was issued April 19 with an initial closing date of May 9. This was later moved to June 9.

Cabinet in April also approved the SAN’s maritime security strategy, although the wording in a statement announcing the move was ambiguous. Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi said Cabinet “approved that the South African Defence Force [sic] should fine-tune its strategy to protect our waters from piracy.” The executive body may also have approved the acceleration of Project Biro, the programme to rejuvenate the sea service’s patrol capability, now vested in three Warrior-class offshore patrol vessels (OPV), three River-class minehunters and three T-class inshore patrol vessels (IPV).

Manyi said that as “a littoral country, South Africa needs to have a balanced naval capability to effectively respond to maritime security threats affecting South Africa. Cabinet noted the incursion of maritime crime into our waters, which might affect our trade routes through the seas.” Cabinet in February tasked the military with developing a strategy to address the threat of piracy in Southern African waters. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu told a related media briefing on February 25 “we discussed it [Biro] sometime last year and shelved it because it was not such an immediate option for us. But we might be getting back to that depending on the outcome of the strategy that we will be presenting to Cabinet. We would be considering re-energising Project Biro because, as you well know, some of our frigates are too big to move around the coast…”

The Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) tabled by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan earlier in February noted that the National Treasury will fund the acquisition of new ships for the SAN from the 2013/14 financial year. The parsimonious keeper of the national purse pencilled in a 52.3% increase in the Maritime Combat Capability subprogramme for the year starting April 2013. That budget boost will provide “for the replacement of the offshore and inshore patrol vessels, procurement of new harbour tugs and the replacement of small boats. This is also the reason for the increase of 73.9% in “transfers and subsidies” in 2013/14.” The latter will spike from R406.5 million in the April 2011 year to R603.7 million in April 2013 and the former to R803.9 million from R570.9 million.

The minister on April 13 noted the maritime security strategy will be a “top priority” once approved, despite the paucity of funding for defence. Sisulu added that using the virements mechanism there was “necessary funding for the first phase.”

The Navy’s Chief Director Maritime Strategy, Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg last November indicated the service’s blueprint for 2030 forsees a fleet of 22 warships and submarines, which is less than the 26 approved in the 1998 Defence Review but more than the 18 noted in a force design approved in 2007. The figures were contained in a briefing given to the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans last November. The blueprint provides for the current three submarines and four frigates. It then adds three offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and six inshore patrol vessels (IPV) as well as two combat support vessels (CSV, up from one at present) and three strategic sealift and sustainment (SSS) vessels (Project Millennium). Also on the list is a new hydrographic survey vessel (Project Hotel) as well as a mobile hydrographic survey team.

The six IPV then sought is three more than approved in 2007. The vessels will likely carry the four Project Mapantsula mine countermeasure (MCM) systems required in terms of the 2030 blueprint as required. The 2007 scheme foresaw a need for two MCM systems and three MCM ships. These will be replaced with Biro IPV.

Heitman yesterday said “there may be some rethinking on the matter of the mix, as three OPVs will clearly be too few, and a 60m IPV will be too big to use as a training system and too small to be any use for patrol purposes.”

Teuteberg suggested an acquisition cost of some R400 million per OPV (R1.2 billion for three), versus R9.69bn for the four Valour-class frigates. The OPV would reportedly have an average annual operating cost of R5.3 million each versus R25.4 million for the frigates and personnel costs of R5 million versus R21.75 million. The annualised life cycle cost for the OPV’s – presuming 30 years of service – is R20 million, vice R85 million for the frigates.

The admiral, at a briefing in late 2008, added the Navy would seek to have the Project Biro vessels built in SA, and perhaps the Project Hotel hydrographic vessel as well, if the final specification was close enough to that of the OPV to allow it. Size-wise the OPV was expected to measure between 80 and 85m in length, and the IPV 53 to 55m. “The OPV must be able to carry a helicopter. The moment you talk about carrying a helicopter, you’re talking of a ship 80-85 metres. The size of the IPVs by contrast is a function of the sea conditions, available money and so forth,” he said.

He added that the OPV would carry a 76mm gun and the IPV a 30mm cannon. Neither would be fitted with missiles. The OPVs would also carry autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) acquired as part of Project Mapantsula as required. The AUVs can also be carried aboard the Valour-class frigates should it be necessary.

The admiral added the Navy was working on convincing its regional partners to purchase similar OPVs, a theme raised again at the Sea Power for Africa Symposium in March 2009 as well as at a defenceWeb maritime security conference in October that year. He explained that using the same hulls would extend the production run and bring down unit costs, while using the same communications equipment and engineering plant will allow for greater efficiency and economic viability.

Southern African Development Community navies would be better able to patrol their waters jointly or severally and could further gain from maintaining a centralised training system as well as spares holding. “Why maintain spares in each county when you can hold it in one location so all can share… That makes it more economically viable.”

Pic: A view of some SA Navy Kapa-class minesweepers, now retired, in April 2006. The ships were at the time being used as training platforms and IPVs.