The SA Navy will need a replacement hydrographic survey vessel as well as new offshore as well as inshore patrol vessels (PV) by 2015 when the incumbent ships will retire. In addition the Navy will need a replacement combat support ship (CSS) in 2020.
That’s the message from SAN briefing on the sea service’s future trajectory late last year.
The briefing added that the country would also have to budget for midlife upgrades for the Valour-class frigates by 2025. The four frigates were launched in 2002 and 2003 and commissioned in 2006 and 2007 with expected lifetimes of between 30 and 40 years.
Also in the pipeline is a landing helicopter dock (or “strategic support ship”) by 2017. A ship of this kind would be uncharted waters for the SA although it has to an extent used its CSS fleet, past and present, in this role.
The Navy in a December 2008 briefing said defence police planners at the time planning contemplated the service acquiring three offshore patrol vessels (OPV), three inshore patrol vessels (IPV), a hydrographic vessel and one strategic support ship (SSS).
Navy chief Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu also stressed that while the sea service had its own projections on the time line for acquiring the ships “in the final analysis” the decision was that of government.
Despite expectations of orders being placed by late last year, by this morning the state arms acquisition agency Armscor is not known to have issued any requests for information, proposal or offer to industry.
The projects are long listed on the defence department’s Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP), with the SSS registered as Project Millennium.
Project Biro, the OPV and IPV acquisition, is a one-for-one replacement of the three remaining re-roled Warrior class vessels and the three T-Craft currently in service. The Warrior vessels are between 24 to 32 years old and the T-craft are about 18 years of age.
Project Hotel seeks to replace the SAS Protea, now 38, with a vessel similar to the Biro OPV. It will also see the establishment of a mobile hydrographic survey team.
Navy Director Maritime Plans Rear Admiral (R Adm) Junior Grade (JG) Sagaren Pillay at the time said the staff work for these projects as well as Project Mapantsula, the acquisition of a new mine countermeasures system, “are at an advanced stage.”
Navy Chief Director Maritime Strategy, R Adm Bernard Teuteberg added the Navy would seek to have the Project Biro vessels built in SA, and perhaps the new hydrographic vessel as well, if the final specification was close enough to that of the OPV to allow it.
Size-wise the OPV were 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 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 last year as well as at a defenceWeb maritime security conference in October.
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.”
It is not clear what the acquisitions would cost. A reading of the literature shows that an average armed OPV costs about R400 million and an IPV half that, giving Project Biro a potential R1.8 billion price tag. This contrasts with the R9.6 billion SA paid for its four Valour-class frigates and the R150 million the former Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism paid for the unarmed environmental protection OPV, the Sarah Baartman, in 2003.
Aviation Week in 2007 reported that a landing platform dock of the type France was offering SA for Project Millennium costs roughly €350 million (R3.7 billion).
Pic: Sailors securing the flight deck of SAS Amatola after flight operations in Table Bay, March 2009. The AgustaWestland SuperLynx crew stand in the foreground while the Valour-class frigate, SAS Isandlwana, keep station with the Amatola in the background.