SA still mulling fifth frigate

A ministerial answer to a question tabled in Parliament suggests South Africa is still deciding whether or not to acquire a fifth frigate.

The written reply to Question 1907, tabled on 21 November, on whether the Navy would purchase a amphibious strategic support ship instead of a fifth frigate, states that a “formal decision has yet to be reached regarding the exact nature of the platform required to meet the SANDF`s capability requirement. No agreements were concluded on whether there should be a purchase of an amphibious vessel instead of a fifth frigate.”

The answer follows another tabled in Parliament in early September on “whether the Government will exercise its option to purchase a fifth corvette”. The answer stated “the matter is still under investigation”.
Several sources and writers have at different times suggested that the minimum frigate requirement is six. 
Commander Thean Potgieter, writing in Scientia Militaria[1] in 2005 noted that the Navy had launched a planning process[2] for a fleet upgrade in the late sixties. The Navy force design of the time was predicated on the sea service being an extension of the Royal Navy.
The British withdrew their last ship from Simon`s Town in June 1967 as part of its so-called “east of Suez” withdrawal. 
“Despite the fact that the Simon`s Town Agreement remained unchanged during the sixties, it was not to last. It became a political liability for Britain, while South Africa thought that it received nothing in return for its unilateral effort of keeping the naval base available to Britain.
“When the Agreement was cancelled in June 1975, it brought the British naval presence of more than a century and a half in South Africa to an end. Without the helping hand of ‘Big Brother` Royal Navy, the SAN was now truly ‘on its own`.
“Operationally the SAN needed ships to patrol the South African and South West Africa/Namibia coasts, guard the Cape Sea Route and, within the framework of the Cold War, shadow Soviet vessels that rounded the Cape of Good Hope, but assistance from Britain would not be forthcoming.
As a consequence, Potgieter says, the Navy “investigated its future role and tried to match it to the type of equipment needed to be a credible maritime force. It`s ageing fleet of destroyers and frigates had to be upgraded and submarines were deemed necessary.
“Any new class of frigates had to be well armed and big enough for adequate sea keeping and endurance in the often stormy SA waters.
“Compact warships of roughly between one and two thousand tons, armed with guns and missiles, were deemed ideal[3]. Six seemed the right number. As a result, a SA project team visited Britain, France and Portugal in March 1971 to investigate alternative designs for future frigates or corvettes.
At the time the Navy operated a fleet of two upgraded British W-class World War Two destroyers (Jan van Riebeeck and Simon van der Stel), three Type 12 antisubmarine warfare (ASW) frigates (President Kruger, President Pretorius and President Steyn) as well as a Type 15 ASW frigate, SAS Vrystaat.   
“Buying from Britain was politically out of the question, but France was already building submarines for SA (three Daphné-class submarines delivered between 1970 and 1972) and Portugal was prepared to sell corvettes to SA. French designs were deemed impressive, but too expensive, while in Portugal the team inspected the much cheaper, smaller but slower Portuguese 1400-ton Joao Coutinho-class corvettes.
“Since Angola and Mozambique were still Portuguese colonies, SA regarded Portugal as an ally. Hence, the SA Minister of Defence, PW Botha, wanted to purchase the ships from Portugal with the intention of supporting Portugal financially. It was a deal”.
Of interest was that only four ships were ordered although the “possibility of building corvettes in SA was also investigated”. The ships were built but not delivered to SA as a result of a change in attitude towards SA in Lisbon after the April 1974 coup. The four ships were later taken into Portuguese service as the Baptista de Andrade class. 

[1] Commander Thean Potgieter, The Secret South African Project Team: Building Strike Craft In Israel, 1975-79, Scientia Militaria,, accessed January 22, 2006.
[2] Military Archive Depot, VSH10/66/10/2, Die verwagte rol en taak van die Vloot 1970-1980-1990-2000.
[3] Potgieter says opinions “regarding the ideal vessel for South African sea conditions vary. Good sea keeping and endurance were emphasised in official documentation, which at this stage implied a ship of at least 1200ton and 84m in length. The Taurus staff requirement was for a ship of at least 1800t”.