SA Navy has pick of litter for pending projects


The SA Navy has the attention of the shipyards of the Western world – and India – for its future requirements.

The seaward service currently has a range of registered requirements to complete the rejuvenation of the fleet started by the 1999 Strategic Defence Package.

Project Sitron saw the Navy receive four German-built Meko A200SAN Valour-class frigates at a cost of R9.65 billion (2007 Treasury figure) and three Type 209 1400 MOD Heroine-class diesel-electric submarines were acquired under Project Wills for R5.354 billion.

Sitron replaced the British-built Type 12 President-class antisubmarine frigates, the last of which was pensioned off in 1985 and Wills the Daphne class submersibles finally retired in 2003.

Known current requirements include

·         Project Biro: A new class of multipurpose offshore patrol vessels (OPV) to replace three types of obsolescent ships currently in use for minesweeping, minehunting and offshore patrolling;  

·         Project Hotel: A new survey ship to replace the 36-year-old SAS Protea;

·         Project Millennium: One or two “strategic support ships”, a completely new capability for the SA Navy, to support national foreign policy, peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention; and   

·         Project Xena: A new class of 15 10.3m inshore patrol vessels and a command & control system for the Operational Boat Squadron of the Maritime Reaction Force (MRF), the Navy`s budding amphibious capability.  

At least ten foreign yards and one SA yard is interested in proposing a solution to one or more of the requirements. They include:

Abeking & Rasmussen
BVT Surface Fleet
Biro                  Millennium  
Netherlands/Cape Town
Biro                  Millennium         Xena
Biro                  Millennium
Biro      Hotel    Millennium
Goa Shipyard Ltd
Lürsen Defence
Magazon Dock Ltd
Biro                  Millennium
Southern African Shipyards
South Africa
Biro                                          Xena
ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems
Biro                  Millennium

All exhibited at the Africa Aerospace & Defence show in Cape Town last month. More may still be interested and will come to the fore when the Navy calls for tenders.  

Details surrounding Projects Biro, Hotel and Millennium remain fuzzy as the Navy has not yet publicly disclosed its requirement in terms of ship numbers, size or equipment-fit. All the yards spoken to are equally in the dark.

It is, however, known that the Department of Defence wants to award the Biro and Hotel contract during the course of 2009. Whether that will still happen following the departure since the show of both defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy Mluleki George is an open question. New minister, Charles Nqakula, formerly in charge of policing, has to date had little exposure to the military and is still familiarising himself with his portfolio. He is likely to be cautious and delay a decision until after next April`s general election.

The same applies to Deputy Minister Fezile Bhengu who headed the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Defence. He is highly regarded by ruling and opposition party MPs for fashioning a non-partisan approach to business. However, deputy ministers are not part of Cabinet and have little direct power in the SA system.

It is not clear when Millennium will realise. Military analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman expects a deal to be inked “after 2015 although that may be brought forward.”                      

Project Biro

Writing in a recent edition of Naval Forces magazine, the usually well-informed Heitman said the Navy would likely seek a locally-built vessel of about 85 to 100m in length, fitted with a “comprehensive but simple combat management system (CMS) and sensor suite” and a light armament that might include a 76mm cannon, machine guns and a light missile system, “perhaps Denel`s laser-guided 10 000m range Mokopa.” There will be a flight deck for a light helicopter and perhaps a hangar.

The ships will also carry a MRF detachment for boarding operations and may also go to sea with an unmanned undersea vehicle (a robot submersible) suitable for minehunting and similar tasks. This is being separately acquired under Project Mapantsula with a tentative in-service date of 2010. 

The number required swings between six and 12, depending on source. Heitman states 10. The Navy also hopes other navies in the region may acquire some of the vessels to create what fleet chief director maritime warfare Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg calls a “regional fleet of similar ships, sharing a common platform, fitted with interoperable systems, supported by a centralised maintenance facility and a single spares depot.”

It is also not clear if Biro is to be a stealth design – similar to the Meko frigates – or more conventional and similar to the 85m SA Sarah Baartman built by Damen for the Department of Environment and Tourism some years ago. Mexico recently opted for a stealth OPV design to gain an element of surprise over drug smugglers operating off its coasts; a conventional design by contrast offering more warning to maritime criminals.       

The Sarah Baartman cost R150 million in 2005. She lacks a CMS or weapons, which by the rule-of-thumb used in the naval world, would have doubled the cost. Several media reports have speculated a Biro unit cost of R300 million.

Project Hotel

The Navy plans to order run Hotel alongside Biro in order to assure maximum subsystem commonality so that the new vessel can also be employed as an OPV when not needed as a hydrographic vessel. The ship will reportedly be fitted with a CMS and might be armed.  


Project Millennium


Naval consultant Rear Admiral (Retd) Rolf Hauter says the design chosen should be shorter than 200m, the maximum size most African ports can accommodate.

The Navy seems to edging towards a landing platform, helicopter, dock (LHD) design that in combat mode can accommodate a full infantry battalion group and its equipment as well as vehicles and stores.

The troops will be put ashore by an onboard SA Air Force helicopter contingent using Denel Oryx medium transports and likely escorted by Denel CSH2 Rooivalk attack helicopters as well as landing craft deployed from the ship`s internal dock. In addition to this, the ship will also have a large hospital facility and command centre where operations can be planned and from where execution can be monitored.

Hauter notes the ships will be ideal for non-combat operations as well, particularly for evacuating civilians from combat zones and for post-disaster assistance. In 2006 France used two such ships to evacuate 10 000 civilians from Beirut in the face of Israeli attack. LHDs are also well suited to rescuing flood or other survivors and delivering food and materiel to refugee centres.                      

Project Xena

The current status of this project is uncertain. A user requirement specification (URS) document dated 2007 projected an in-service date of December 2008. The document foresaw the Navy acquiring three units of five boats. In addition to the vessels, each unit was to include a mobile shore facility consisting of accommodation and a containerised headquarters.

The URS specified a “turnkey” C3IMS solution “of low to medium complexity that will be fully supportable under difficult conditions far removed from a home base infrastructure by low-level technical personnel”.

The headquarters command, control, communications and information management system (C3IMS) was to consist of three modules, one for C2, a second for communications and a third for surveillance. The last would include a local surveillance radar, as well as “some basic night visual cameras”. Also required was a Link ZA data link. The boats themselves will be fitted with a radio, radar and a tracking suite.