SA Navy submarine SAS Manthatisi’s presence off the Cape explained

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The woes that the suffering South African Navy continues to have to endure make for depressing reading. So to see one of her capital ships out at sea is always a tonic. Sadly, if said capital ship appears to be doing something strange, or misunderstood, then the tendency is for the conspiracy theorists, the doom and gloom merchants, the fake news pushers, and the clueless keyboard warriors to come out and try to tell it how it is.

On Sunday 23 July, some of the residents of Hout Bay, located just south of Cape Town, spotted something not often seen in their neck of the woods. It was a submarine, and she appeared to be lying close to the rocky shore, in shallow water, blowing hard, but going nowhere. What was going on, and why was she where she was?

Immediately, the cry of ‘The Russians are coming’ hit the social media pages. Except that this submarine was too small to be one of the big blue water Russian attack or missile boats. Aaaah, maybe it is the Chinese, because a flotilla of them is in Cape Town? Neither guess was close to the truth. The submarine lying before the eyes of the onlookers from Chapman’s Peak Drive was none other than SAS Manthatisi (S101) of the South African Navy.

Due to her proximity to the rocky shoreline, and the fact that she was not moving, and simply appeared to be wallowing in the same place, the keyboard warriors were out in force proclaiming that she had run aground. She had not! Anyone with a semblance of nautical knowledge will have noticed that she was flying a single black ball on her sail mast, indicating she was at anchor.

As to why she was at anchor in such a partially exposed location, i.e. not within the confines of Hout Bay, were answered by a seasoned naval correspondent, who stated that her sloping deck angle was because she was trimmed for battery charging. This was supported by the fact that she was clearly running her diesel engines, as her exhausts were making plenty of smoke and kicking up a lot of spray, all of which was clearly visible at her stern. The submarine had apparently just completed a training exercise and was thus recharging batteries.

The submarine remained at anchor for the rest of the day, and was still there when the sun went down, and it got too dark to see her. The next morning, SAS Manthatisi was gone, presumably to continue her patrol, or training exercise, or merely to head back home to the safe confines of Simons Town.

defenceWeb understands that Manthatisi’s excursion involved the scattering of ashes in False Bay – a submariner had passed away from cancer and his ashes were scattered at sea in accordance with his wishes.

Ordered in 2000 from the Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (HDW), and the Thyssen Nordseewerke shipyards in Germany, SAS Manthatisi was laid down in May 2001, launched in June 2004, and commissioned into the South African Navy in November 2005, and given the pennant number S101. She arrived in Simons Town in April 2006, under escort from Germany by the frigate SAS Amatola (F145). She was the lead unit of the three Heroine Class submarines, the others being SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102), and SAS Queen Modjadji (S103).

Her design is that of a Type 209/1400 submarine, and the order was to replace the three elderly French built Daphné Class submarines, all of whom were decommissioned by 2003 after more than 30 years of service. Named after the Female Warrior Chief of the Batlokwa Tribe, who came from the Harrismith area of the modern day Free State province.

The Type 209 submarines were built by HDW exclusively for export. There were five variants of the design, with the 1400 variant being the South African Navy version. With a displacement tonnage of 1,454 tons, SAS Manthatisi is a diesel-electric attack submarine, and is 62 metres in length.

She is powered by four MTU 12V396 twelve cylinder four stroke diesel engines, producing 6 100 bhp (4 500 kW), and providing power to a Siemens electric motor producing 3 700 kW, and driving a single shaft for a surface service speed of 10 knots, and a submerged speed of 22 knots. She also has a large battery room holding four, 120 cell, batteries.

She carries a crew of 30, and has an operational surface range of 11 000 nautical miles, and 400 nautical miles submerged. With an endurance of 50 days, SAS Manthatisi has a submerged maximum operational depth considered to be around 500 metres. She can recharge her batteries either on the surface, via her diesel engines, or submerged using her snorkel.

Her main armament as a submarine was based around eight, 21 inch (533mm), torpedo tubes with an onboard arsenal of 14 AEG SUT264 torpedoes, plus an optional capability of firing UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles from her torpedo tubes.

Her electronic warfare fitting includes an STN Atlas CSU-90 Sonar, a Grintek Avitronics ESM system, and a Saab S/UME-100 ELINT system. She has optics fitted to a Zeiss optronic mast, and an I-Band surface search radar.

On one of her first operational exercises in September 2007, conducted off Cape Point with a mixed force of NATO and SAN warships, SAS Manthatisi was said to have managed to have penetrated a seven warship anti-submarine screen, and sunk the protected target. She was then able to engage the screen, and managed to sink all seven of them in the process. The exercise was named ‘Exercise Amazolo’, and it was the first time ever that the SAN was able to conduct maritime exercises with a NATO fleet.

The NATO warships included the American Cruiser USS Normandy (CG70), the Dutch Frigate HMNLS Evertsen (F805), the Canadian Frigate HMCS Toronto (FFH333), the Portuguese Frigate NRP Alvares Cabral (F331), the Danish Corvette HDMS Olfert Fischer (F355), and the German Auxiliary FGS Spessart (A1442).

The NATO flotilla formed what was known as SNMG1 or Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, which was usually Mediterranean based, but was conducting a circumnavigation of Africa.

The participating SAN warships were the Frigates SAS Amatola and SAS Isandlwana, the Strike Craft SAS Galeshewe, and SAS Manthatisi.

One year later SAS Manthatisi was withdrawn from active service, and placed into reserve. This was as part of the SAN plans to maintain only two of the three submarines in service. However, in 2010 she began a refit to bring her back to service. Yet, despite the refit not being completed, she re-entered service in October 2014. This failure to complete a planned, scheduled, refit was a sign of things to come, and the start of the refit malaise of the SAN fleet.

To emphasise how deep this malaise has become, on 18 May this year, Vice-Admiral M Lobese, Chief of the Navy, and Rear-Admiral B Mhlana, Deputy Chief of the Navy, were called to give a status briefing to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD). The briefing was to give the JSCD the current plan, and timeframes, for the repair and maintenance of both the Frigate and Submarine fleets.

The submarine report confirmed that Armscor had failed to complete the planned ‘Refit 1’ schedule of works for Manthatisi back in 2014, yet she had still been released back into service. The scheduled Mid Life Upgrade (MLU) for her had been scheduled for 2022, but has yet to be commenced over one year later. The planned schedule for ‘Refit 2’ is set for 2030, with her life decommissioning being scheduled for 2038.

For SAS Charlotte Maxeke, she was currently in the process of her refit, but which was still incomplete, despite being scheduled to have taken place in 2015. For SAS Queen Modjadji 1, she was still undergoing preservation and refit planning activities. These were for a refit scheduled to take place in 2016, but had not yet commenced. So instead of the planned two submarines in service, the SAN currently only has one, and that has never completed a refit.

SAS Manthatisi is currently operational while SAS Charlotte Maxeke should become operational in April 2025 and SAS Queen Modjadji operational that same month.

Following a R1.4 billion allocation by National Treasury for refits, the Navy is refitting one submarine and one frigate. The submarine refit should be completed in December 2024 and the frigate that same month, with sea trials taking place in the first three months of 2025.

The SAS Queen Modjadji is currently undergoing preservation and pre-refit planning activities, in preparation for a refit. Funding to complete the refit of the SAS Charlotte Maxeke is available and the submarine is currently “in refit process” with Armscor providing project management.

Written by Jay Gates with input from Guy Martin and first published on Africa Ports. The original article can be found here.