The South African Navy (SAN) is falling behind many other African countries when it comes to new naval acquisitions, with the Navy on a path of reduced expenditure.
This is according to Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, who attended the Maritime Security Conference in Simon’s Town on 12 July.
Hlongwane said that Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria were “seriously busy with expanding and improving their own capabilities.” These countries, since 2015, have acquired advanced maritime combat capabilities.
For example, the Algerian Navy is receiving ten Ocea FPB 98 patrol boats from France, joining 21 delivered between 2008 and 2012, and in January this year commissioned into service two new Kilo class submarines from Russia. Algeria has apparently also ordered two additional Kilo 877EKM vessels, for delivery in 2020-2022. In 2016 the Algerian Navy commissioned the first of two Meko frigates delivered from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and in 2015 received the first of three C28A corvettes from China. In 2017 it received a training ship from Poland and that same year a new mine countermeasures vessel.
Egypt has also taken delivery of a large number of warships, including four Type 209/1400mod submarines from Germany from 2016, the Fremm multi mission frigate Tahya Misr in August 2015 and in June 2016 two Mistral-class Landing Helicopter Dock vessels. Four Gowind corvettes are on order from France, with three being built in Egypt. The North African country is now acquiring Meko frigates from Germany.
Similarly, the Nigerian Navy has also undergone huge expansion over the last few years, receiving dozens of small RHIBs and interceptor boats as well as larger vessels, and has been making efforts to indigenise production. Recent deliveries include five FPB 72 and two FPB 110 patrol boats, Guardian fast patrol boats, locally built Epenal boats, and three indigenous Seaward Defence Boats. An OSV 190 hydrographic survey vessel will be delivered by year end from France’s Ocea.
“The South African Navy, on the other hand, introduced modern frigates and submarines into service in the mid-2000s and will soon acquire the new hydrographic survey vessel and the three Inshore Patrol Vessels (IPV),” Hlongwane said. “However, the maintenance and support of our frigates and submarines…is becoming increasingly challenging as a result of budget cuts. Furthermore, while the new hydrographic survey vessel and IPVs are modern robust ships fully suited to perform their missions, they will not significantly improve the combat capability of the SAN which is required to defend our country and national interests in terms of our constitutional mandate.”
Detailing the increased capability of the three other nations, Hlongwane said that the “naval balance of power is shifting on our continent” and as a result, “South Africa is in fact ‘bucking the regional trend’ and is heading backwards in the worst case or merely marking time in the best case in terms of our own operational capability.”
Whilst other navies are increasing the hours of its ships at sea, the SAN reports ever diminishing sea hours, driven by a declining budget.
“This is not a very comfortable situation,” he said, “The SAN is heading in the wrong direction in terms of naval capability compared to the other significant African navies and finds itself on the wrong side of the imbalanced power scale. This is not an issue for the SAN to address on its own however, as the need for the SAN to be a key regional role player can only be driven by a budget which adequately supports Government levels of ambition.”
“I am not advocating that we acquire new powerful ships to match those being acquired to the north of us,” Hlongwane emphasised, “Just that I would like to adequately maintain and support the really excellent ships and submarines that we already have in our inventory so that I can send them to sea to improve the expertise, confidence and morale of sailors and get back to my vision of being ‘unchallenged at sea’.”