Phakisa’s shipbuilding component needs Biro and Hotel announcements to get going

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Showcasing the shipbuilding element of government’s Operation Phakisa initiative is still some way off with Armscor not currently prepared to release any information about seven new vessels for the SA Navy.

Last year the State defence and security acquisition agency issued a tender for a new hydrographic vessel to replace the ageing SAS Protea and soon after another tender for three inshore and three offshore patrol vessels was put into the public domain.

The complexity of the hydrographic vessel tender saw the closing date extended to allow potential bidders more time to finalise their offers. Representatives from 12 shipyards attended a bidders’ conference in Simon’s Town in October 2014.

To date Armscor has given no indication of how many tenders were submitted or when any announcement will be made. It did say the complexity of the tender meant it could take up to a year to evaluate with an announcement possible by September, 12 months after the revised closing date.

The acquisition agency this week indicated “internal processes are still being undertaken” as regards the Biro (in- and offshore patrol vessels) and Hotel (hydrographic vessel) project tenders. Tender submissions for Hotel closed on June 30 last year and submissions for Biro had to be delivered to Armscor by September 30 last year.
“Only once these (internal processes) are finalised will Armscor be in a position to make public statements or comments,” Lulu Mzili, General Manager: Marketing and Business Development, said.

The blue economy phase of Operation Phakisa was launched by President Jacob Zuma late in 2014 with the aim of exploiting the potential of the oceans around South Africa. Government maintains the oceans – “an untapped resource” – can contribute up to R177 billion to the national economy and create in the region of a million jobs by 2033.

Operation Phakisa’s blue economy boost is based on marine transport and manufacturing, including refurbishing and shipbuilding; offshore oil and gas exploration; aquaculture and marine protection service and ocean governance, both of which will see heavy involvement from the SA Navy.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the 60% local content requirement on both projects will see a projected spend of over R6 billion over the next three to four years. The local content requirement will guarantee that at least the hulls are built in South Africa.

Defence analyst and former Defence Review committee member Helmoed Romer Heitman has suggested that three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) are too few and has called for at least four, with a target of twelve. “Study of the DR [2014 Defence Review] will show that the absolute minimum number will be eight, accepting some gaps and some tasks falling to the frigates,” Heitman stated.
“The problem is that gearing up to build just three ships is plain silly. If we were going for a two-phase project of six ships per phase, with smaller vessels and refits etc. between the two, it would make sense. To make all that investment for three is not good economics or even good strategy, given that the capability will be lost almost as soon as the last ship is delivered.”

He suggests developing a proper long-term fleet plan from the Defence Review and then developing a 30-year ship-building programme to build most or even all of the surface ships. “That will probably not be cost-effective per type, but would give a revived ship-building and outfitting industry a baseload of work on which to enter other markets, particularly for the offshore gas and oil industry.
“Considering ships and accepting that the Mozambique Channel is a vital interest of SA’s (oil route, future offshore gas and oil, Maputo harbour), and that we need to show ourselves in West Africa at least some of the time, the Navy should have a patrol force of at least eight large OPVs with embarked helicopters in addition to the four frigates and at least two but preferably three support ships. Plus some small IPVs for harbour environs. The submarines then continue to provide strategic surveillance. LHDs would need to be added if we want to play a regional role,” Heitman stated.
“As to the OPV, somewhere around 80 m is probably the smallest if it is to operate a helicopter at all and have the endurance and range for some regional missions. Although if we want to operate helicopters in bad weather in SA waters, a minimum waterline length of about 110 m is more like it. And remember the old RN saying: “Air is free and steel is cheap”; it is largely the systems, not the hull, that bring the costs – although there are obviously limits to that.
“Considering numbers, the DR argues for three vessels operational at all times in SA waters and four for regional work. Assuming all of them are to be OPVs, keeping the four frigates in hand as a reserve and for more serious challenges (or when a high speed run is required as in the Tristan rescue a while ago), that means 7 OPVs operational, which argues for about 10 in total. If we assume that the frigates are part of the four in regional waters, we will still need 5 OPVs operational, which argues for 8 to allow for refit, training and for training with off-board MCM systems.”

Heitman pointed out that this would also require more shipboard helicopters: two per deployed frigate, one per OPV, two medium helicopters per support ship and some for training and in the maintenance cycle.

For optimum maritime security, Heitman also feels that additional fixed wing aircraft are needed as well: “Considering aircraft and again allowing for the Channel, we should probably look at about eight King Air or similar aircraft for the coastal and EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] surveillance mission, and at least four SH-130J Sea Hercules or HC-130J (the USCG variant) to look after the islands and our SASAR [South African Search and Rescue Organisation] commitment, as well as backing up the smaller type. As and when money becomes available we can look at a proper MPA [maritime patrol aircraft] and also at UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to thicken up the surveillance coverage and to free aircraft for deployment to help other countries.”