Denel partnering with TKMS on upgrading SA Navy’s frigates and submarines


Denel has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) covering the support of the South African Navy’s three submarines and four frigates.

The MOU was signed aboard the Valour class frigate SAS Amatola in Rostock, Germany, Denel announced on 11 March. The Amatola is in Germany for Exercise Good Hope VII, after sailing to the United Kingdom for the centenary commemorations of the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi on 21 February 1917.

Denel Integrated Systems and Maritime (Denel ISM) will take responsibility for maintenance and upgrades on the SA Navy’s (SAN’s) three Heroine Class submarines (SAS Manthatisi, SAS Charlotte Maxeke and SAS Queen Modjadji) and four Valour class frigates (SAS Amatola, SAS Isandlwana, SAS Spioenkop AND SAS Mendi). The vessels were commissioned by the SA Navy between 2005 and 2008.

Denel said the agreement creates a framework in which TKMS, the original manufacturer of the submarines and frigates, will provide technical and shipyard support as subcontractors to Denel. It will include quality assurance and procurement, on-site technical support, the transfer of technology and the development of the local supply chain. The training of Denel’s technical personnel will take place in Germany.

The agreement is in line with Denel’s plans to revive the Naval Dockyard facilities in Simons Town, and consequently TKMS will provide general support to the Dockyard operations, infrastructure, and maintenance. The company will also provide technical support for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of the frigates and submarines in the Dockyard.

In May 2016 Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced that control of the Simon’s Town dockyard was returned to the Navy. Denel ISM in September 2016 was announced as being selected to take over the management of the dockyard, while Armscor will act as the procurement agency interfacing between the Navy and Denel ISM. The actual transfer of management and control of the dockyard to Denel ISM will take place six months after certain conditions are met, it was announced.

The naval dockyard in Simon’s Town has experienced numerous problems and challenges, including insufficient capacity and manpower, capabilities and insufficient funding.

Armscor earlier this year announced that it will continue to operate the Simon’s Town dockyard until the transfer to Denel takes place, but it is not clear when this process will be completed. A steering committee has been set up to manage the transfer.

Commenting on the agreement with TKMS, Zwelakhe Ntshepe, the Acting CEO of Denel, said, “This is a major breakthrough for the South African maritime sector as Denel becomes responsible for specialist services on some of the world’s most-sophisticated submarines and frigates. These vessels are the sharp end of South Africa’s naval forces and the primary protectors of our coastline against possible intruders and illegal incursions into our territorial waters.
“We are smoothing the waves for the growth of South Africa’s future maritime and shipbuilding industries. The benefits of this agreement will cascade down into the Simon’s Town community, the Western Cape economy and the entire local defence and technology sectors,” said Ntshepe.

Denel added the agreement is a major boost for Operation Phakisa, government’s broad strategy to develop the ocean economy. “The experience Denel gains on the pride of South Africa’s naval fleet will soon become available to other state-owned vessels and enable Denel to expand into the commercial sector over the long term. The agreement with TKMS forms part of Denel Maritime’s strategy to establish key strategic alliances in the maritime sector,” the company said.

Last year there were indications that China’s Poly Technologies would become involved in the Naval Dockyard, after Denel in September signed an MOU with the company to that effect. However, it seems this was predicated on Poly Technologies winning either Project Hotel or Biro for new offshore/inshore patrol boats and a hydrographic survey vessel – Damen Shipyards Cape Town and Southern African Shipyards were in February announced as the preferred bidders for these projects.

It is assumed that the agreement between Denel and TKMS is in anticipation of Project Syne, which covers the mid-life upgrade of the four frigates. Work is due to start in 2017-18 and take place over a decade to extend the vessels’ service lives beyond 2035. It is expected that the guns, combat management suite and radar system will be upgraded, amongst other items.

Some refit and upgrade work has already been done on the frigates in South Africa. The refit of the SAS Amatola was recently completed in Durban in 2015 and the submarine SAS Manthatisi was overhauled in the Simon’s Town dockyard, the first time a Type 209 submarine refit has been completed in Africa.

Dene said the cooperation with TKMS is based on the recognition of the critical importance of the operational availability of the South African Navy fleet at all times. The Navy only spent 8 951 hours at sea in 2014/15 against the target of 12 000 hours, mainly due to the unavailability of vessels due to delayed maintenance cycles.