Navy gains teeth

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The Chief of the SA Navy Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu has commissioned the Navy’s latest combat unit, the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS).
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony at Simon`s Town yesterday, he said the “day marks another milestone in the South African Navy`s capability to effectively have in place a structure that is dedicated to competently fulfilling” a number of special operational tasks such as
·         Conducting interdiction, patrol and escort operations in coastal, lake, and riverine areas.
·         Boarding of suspicious ships to counter criminal and illegal activities at sea. 
·         Combating poaching and smuggling.
·         Operational diving and salvage operations.
·         Augmentation of land forces.
·         Beachhead operations.
·         Spotting duties for naval gunfire support.
·         Specialised boats crews for combat and combat support ships on deployment.
·         Force protection of vessels when in harbour or approaches during deployment.
Mudimu ordered the establishment of the MRS in 2005. As a consequence the Navy`s merged the   
Operational Boats Squadron and the Navy Rapid Deployment Force on 1 September 2006. Shortly thereafter the two Operational Diving Teams (ODT) were brought under MRS command.
“Current prevailing maritime threats dictate that all navies must be equally ready to counter asymmetric [s well as traditional] threats which means transforming … from platform-centric to a network-centric paradigm. 
“Throughout the world, navies are confronted with maritime threats from criminal elements that commit acts of piracy, armed robbery, poaching, smuggling, human trafficking, terrorism and illegal immigration in coastal waters,” Mudimu told the assembled sailors and a small contingent of reporters.   
“These criminals take advantage of countries with porous borders, that have weak navies and therefore unable to patrol their waters.” 
“The recent horrific attacks that apparently originated from the sea in Mumbai, India highlight once again the vital need for good intelligence and awareness of activities at sea, extending from territorial waters to the exclusive economic zone.
“Most importantly a collective approach is required by navies to counter maritime threats that include joint patrols and the exchange of information. 
“As a result of this, countries need to ensure that their navies are adequately equipped to meet all eventualities at sea. 
“To receive early warning and information we must therefore not neglect to encourage our people to be observant and report suspicious activities in our waters. What gives you doubt might be the indication that an illegal activity is about to take place. So, be proactive and take cognisance and act decisively.
“The focus of network centric warfare, to counter asymmetric threats, is on having forces that will accomplish objectives faster, with fewer troops and fewer, lighter weapons and other equipment to manoeuvre in the specific battle space,” Mudimu says.   
“The creation, equipping and training of the MRS, besides addressing conventional warfare capabilities, is therefore focussed on countering maritime threats at sea, and to date with their deployments, they have retained a proud track record. 
“The MRS is a lean and mean unit and the physical demand of their tasks requires high levels of fitness and agility on both land and water. They are small teams that provide a rapid response and are readily deployable with local and regional reach. Their careers are thus demanding and challenging and success lies in their ability to operate as a team,” he adds.
“This SA Navy initiative was recognised by the top leadership of the Ministry [of Defence], SANDF and National Treasury and additional funding was made available to acquire the initial equipment to create a viable and deployable MRS. 
“The [Project Xena] equipment includes a base camp, command and control systems, prototype boats for lake and riverine operations and this is in the final process of acquisition and will be available in a few months. 
“This will be the first time that the SA Navy will have command and control over elements of the Operational Diving Team, Operational Boat [Division] and Rapid Reaction Force [Division] deployed as one entity within our continent on missions as authorised by Government.”
Although only commissioned yesterday, the MRS currently has deployed elements to the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the former Operational Boat Squadron supported peacekeeping operations in Burundi by patrolling Lake Tanganyika from June 2003, a mission wound up last year.      
Mudimu adds they also had a busy 2008: “Throughout this year MRS members have been deployed to conduct force protection duties for foreign warships participating in multinational exercises and visiting our ports, such as the US Navy aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, as well as local and foreign dignitaries during official visits.” 
“Besides providing protection duties they participated in exercises on ships that are focussed on specialised naval tasks such as boarding and seizure operations that develops and improves their skills in the countering of sea borne threats.
“On occasions they have been successfully deployed to conduct crime prevention operations at our units and depots to prevent theft and damage to state property,” Mudimu added.
Mudimu thanked the MRS` founder members “for their dedication and hard work”, recalling that during the initial briefings on the project, he had “realised the massive effort and challenges that were being faced to develop this force”. 
“You can all stand proud today when you see the fruits of your work.
“I am therefore extremely proud that we have reached this milestone – the commissioning of the MRS as a Force Support Element of the South African Navy, and I know that they will grow from strength to strength in the protection and support of our people and our country,” he added. 
“The year 2009, and particularly 2010 when we host the Soccer World Cup, will be a busy year for the MRS, but I am confident that you will all give your best, as you have so competently done in the past.” 
The parade was followed by a demonstration aboard the SAS Drakensberg of the MRS` skill at boarding ships and the first public display of the prototype MRS patrol boat.