Navy upbeat despite challenges


Emerging from a year of consolidation, the South African Navy (SAN) is looking forward to a productive year ahead, despite facing the same challenges it faced in previous years.

Speaking to the media at the annual State of the Navy briefing, Chief of the Navy Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu says that since 2010 the Navy has seen an expansion of their role in terms of ensuring regional maritime safety and security. While the senior leadership were at pains to paint a bright picture of the SAN, it is clear that the familiar problems and difficulties that faced 91-year old naval service in previous years remains.

Chief amongst these challenges are those of retaining trained personnel and a sufficient financing operational finance.

In order attract and retain highly skilled personnel, the Navy has embarked on a program to incentivise members in core strategic functions. This not only involves the payment of allowances in order to better compete with the private sector, but also includes non-financial benefits in order to improve esprit de corps and working conditions.

Key amongst the Navy’s plans is to revitalise the Reserve Force component and a Reserve Force Indaba was convened by Mudimu in February this year to discuss this aspect. Mudimu noted that key elements identified by the Indaba include that the Reserve Force must reflect the demographics of the broader community and that of competence and relevance.
“The Reserve Component needs to be afforded exposure to the full spectrum of education, training and development processes,” Mudimu explained.

The SAN has been involved in a number of operations over the past year. This includes the extension of Operation Copper (anti-piracy off the east coast), Operation Corona (border patrol), Operation Prosper (maritime security in support of SAPS), Operation Wallow (shadowing vessels of Interest), Operation Phefo (AFCON security) and Operation Chariot (assistance to Mozambique during Floods). In addition, the SAN contributions to all SANDF external deployments.

The Navy has also participated in a number of regional and international maritime exercises.

Rear Admiral Hanno Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy, says that the operational tempo of the Navy has been higher than that budgeted for in the Logistic Support Analysis.
“There has been a huge upward curve in (ship) availability,” he says.

This, however, has placed immense pressure on the logistic capability and support the Navy requires.

The Director Fleet Logistics, Rear Admiral (Junior Grade) M Lobese is the man responsible for ensuring that the Navy is able to fulfil its core business, that of fighting at sea.

As the vessels are at sea for more than budgeted, it is crucial that they be maintained according to strict schedules. All vessel maintenance is performed at the Naval Dockyard in Simon’s Town, which is run by Armscor. However, manpower shortages and capacity at the dockyard is severely affecting the ability of the Navy to keep to those schedules.

Lobese says that the ships are being deployed for longer than scheduled, which is having a negative impact on the ships. Over using the ships could result in increased damage, requiring longer turnaround times and increased maintenance costs.

This, Lobese continued, impacts on the safety of the ships. “Luckily we have not experienced any loss of ships or life as a result, but there are challenges and maintenance must be done. If (it is) not done, then (the ship’s) endurance at sea is limited”, he explained.

The big elephant in the room was that of an adequate budget. Ask any serving officer and they will say that the budget is never big enough, yet the Navy is making do with what limited budget is has been allocated.

A senior Officer noted that the budget was probably 50% of what is required for the current tempo of operations.

Despite the budget woes, the Navy is in the process of fleet upgrades and renewal.

Of the four frigates in service, SAS Amatola is at sea with Operation Copper, SAS Spioenkop is working up for deployment, SAS Isandlwana is undergoing maintenance and repairs whilst SAS Mendi is preparing for refit. This, according to Teuteberg, is in line with international best practise.

A new diesel engine has been installed in one of the /frigates, whilst SAS Amatola will shortly also have a new diesel engine installed. This, Teuteberg explained, was not the fault of the manufacturers, but as a result of local conditions and consumable quality.

Having been in service for eight years, the frigates are preparing for a mid-life upgrade project. The biggest challenge is that of the long lead times to obtain spares.

The submarine force follows a similar schedule, with SAS Charlotte Maxeke pperationally available, SAS Queen Modjadji undergoing training and maintenance, whilst SAS Manthatisi is undergoing refit which is scheduled for completion by the end of July next year. This includes the fitting of new batteries from a different manufacturer as the entire submarine fleet, including those of international Type 209 submarine users, are affected by the same battery problems.

The refit will allow the transfer of know-how so that future refits can be performed using local knowledge, whilst a torpedo upgrade program is being investigated. The retention of scarce skills is once again a major challenge.

The Inshore- and Offshore-Patrol Vessel fleet is undergoing major renewal and expansion, with three IPV having completed or undergoing major refit in Durban. Once accepted back into service, the patrol vessel fleet will be home-ported at the newly upgraded Naval Base Durban. A further two IPV are either operationally available or undergoing short term maintenance. Two OPVs are operationally available, with one undergoing maintenance.

The Combat Support Ship SAS Drakensberg will shortly undergo a Life Extension Project, but spares for this single class of vessel remains a challenge.

Whilst the Navy clearly knows its mission and what it needs to do to succeed at sea, financial and manpower challenges remain. Given the hand that it has been dealt with, the Navy has acquitted itself well this past year and is intent on keeping a steady hand on the tiller to achieve its objectives this year.