With the opening of the new Submarine Escape Training Simulator (SETS), the SA Navy no longer needs to send their submariners overseas for training. The facility will be used to train submariners for submarine escape procedures and each of the approximately 120 operational SA Navy submariners must undergo this training annually.
The Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thabang Makwetla, officially opened the SETS on Friday at the West Dockyard in Naval Base Simon’s Town, Cape Town. Speaking at the opening, Makwetla noted that the facility represented “a noteworthy advance in terms of capacitating of the training capability within the broader Southern African Development Community as it is the only facility of this nature on the continent, south of the equator.”
“This is particularly important against the background of the recent recognition by Cabinet of the escalation of maritime crime and piracy in the waters of Africa,” Makwetla said. “The features of the recently-acquired and integrated Type 209 submarines with their characteristics of stealth, mobility, flexibility, endurance and regional reach, among others, will greatly enhance our ability to engage in combating the scourge of maritime crime and piracy in our region, and indeed more broadly in the waters of the Continent”.
Referring to the need of a SETS, Makwetla said that “the matter of technologically advanced training becomes of crucial importance. Maritime capability in general, and submarine assets in particular, are able to significantly expand their roles if the supporting training capabilities have the necessary utility and sophistication to ensure that training is undertaken in such a manner as to best simulate the operating environment.”
“The underwater operating environment is notoriously challenging and unforgiving. The margin for error is almost non-existent, and the costs of any unforeseen error, small as such an error may be, are incalculable. Inevitably such deviations are inextricably linked to the survival of both the crew and the platform. As such, training becomes not only a means to mitigate the risks inherent to the capability itself, but also the means to save in the event of the underwater challenges and risks becoming insurmountable,” he continued.
The SETS is part of Project Wills, under which three Type 209 submarines were purchased from Germany as part of the “arms deal”. Prior to the building of the new simulator, those submariners delivering the new submarines to South Africa completed their escape training in Germany. During the SETS design phase, the SA Navy Submarine Service benchmarked the design against German and Swedish submarine escape simulators. However, the South African Navy’s SETS is unique in that it contains a full scale replica of the tower of the Type 209 submarine as purchased by South Africa, including unique modifications.
The SETS falls under SAS Simonsberg, which is responsible for maritime training in the Fleet. Construction of the facility commenced in August 2009 and the first training course is scheduled to commence soon.
With 13 countries operating the Type 209 submarine, the SA Navy SETS is only one of seven worldwide. Interest shown by foreign navies, including Argentina and India, in using the local facility will have positive spin-offs not only for the Navy, but also for the Cape Town economy as each trainee will stay for one to two weeks of training.