The current, pre-Cabinet version of Defence Update 2025 (DU2025) contemplates the South African Navy acquiring three offshore patrol vessels (OPV), three inshore patrol vessels (IPV), a hydrographic vessel and one strategic support ship (SSS).
The figures emerged at a press briefing on the state of readiness of the Navy by sea service chief
Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu yesterday and are less than the figures quoted in many media reports, including some in specialist international defence publication.
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 and 22 to 29 and 16 years old respectively.
Project Hotel seeks to replace the SAS Protea, now 36, with a vessel similar to the Biro OPV. It will also see the establishment of a mobile hydrographic survey team.
Project Xena will see the Navy replace its ten remaining 28-year-old Namacurra-class harbour patrol vessels and its six five-year-old Lima utility landing craft.
Project Millennium, the SSS buy, is the sole new buy, with one vessel rather than the two speculated to date. Some reports had also put the OPV requirement at as high as ten vessels
Mudimu and his staff would not say whether their assessment of the number of ships required varied from that proposed in DU2025.
Navy Chief Director Maritime Strategy, R Adm Bernard Teuteberg says “any navy would like as much ships as possible.
He adds that the numbers were informed by the budget available and the equipment needs of the other Services as well as government`s spending priorities.
In addition, the Navy does not act alone. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) maintains four patrol vessels and the police has a number of patrol boats. In addition these are supported by sensors such as radar and maritime patrol aircraft and coordinated through a borderline control mechanism and the South African National Defence Force`s (SANDF) Joint Operations Division.
Navy Director Maritime Plans Rear Admiral(R Adm) Junior Grade (JG) Sagaren Pillay says the staff work for these projects as well as Project Mapantsula, the acquisition of a new mine countermeasures system, “are at an advanced stage.”
Teuteberg confirms 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 is close enough to that of the OPV to allow it.
Size-wise the OPV will likely 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 adds that the OPV will carry a 76mm gun and the IPV a 30mm cannon. Neither will be fitted with missiles. The OPVs will 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 says the Navy is working on convincing its regional partners to purchase similar OPVs. Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania all have small navies at best equipped with patrol boats and would benefit from operating OPVs interoperable with that of SA.
He explains 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.”
Teuteberg has previously said the acquisitions are listed in the SANDF`s strategic capital master plan and will therefore be funded. But he cannot say what the acquisitions will finally cost as no final designs have yet been selected and no contracts have been signed.
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 theR9.6 billion SA paid for its four Valour-class frigates and the R150 million the DEAT paid for the unarmed environmental protection OPV, the Sarah Baartman, in 2003.
Aviation Week last year reported that a landing platform dock of the type France is offering SA for Project Millennium costs roughly €350 million (R3.5 billion).