Navy cranking up for Biro?


The South African Navy has issued the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town a request for quotation (RFQ) 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 last week Monday with a closing date of May 9.

Cabinet last week seemingly approved the South African Navy’s maritime security strategy, although the wording in a statement announcing the move was ambiguous. Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi said Cabinet Wednesday “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). The statement 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 the same day the Valour-class frigate SAS Mendi was already off Mozambique informally collecting information on piracy and cooperating with authorities there “to ensure maritime security in Southern African waters.

Sisulu added “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 in February noted that the National Treasury will fund the acquisition of new ships for the Navy 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.” This may include funding for Biro, which is still in an early phase.

The ENE noted the task of the Navy is to defend and protect South Africa and its maritime zones by providing a surface combat capability of four frigates, one combat support vessel, two OPV, three IPV and a sub-surface combat capability of two submarines in each annual operational cycle; in addition to two mine countermeasures systems in each annual operational cycle to ensure safe access to South African harbours and where mine clearance may be required.

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. 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 now 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.

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.