The South African Navy’s inshore and riverine equipment acquisition programme, Project Xena, is about more than just boats, says Captain (SAN) Nick Marais.
Marais, the Xena project officer, says the first five of 16 10.5m patrol boats will be delivered by the end of March. But the boats are just one component of one part of the multi-million rand project to equip, house and maintain the Navy`s new Maritime Reaction Squadron in the field.
“Project Xena is not just the boats,” Marais says. “To have a rapid deployment capability you need the boats but these need to be supported.
The project thus consists of five parts:
1. The boat system consisting of the boats themselves, trailers for the boats and a floating jetty.
2. The base camp.
3. Command, control & communications (C3I)
The boat system
Marais says Cape Town-based Vee Craft Marine have been contracted for the boat system, which will initially consist of five boats, their trailers and a floating modular jetty.
The jetty arrived last week and the trailers are expected in February. Marais explains that the jetty consists of a number of floating modules that fit into a single standard ISO 6m container. “You can deploy it anywhere and have a jetty within one day. It is a mooring facility for our boats, a miniature harbour we can build from scratch in a really hostile environment…”
The base camp is a “small transportable town,” says Marais that fit into 33 ISO 6m containers. The main contractor, RCS, is providing Weatherhaven tentage for accommodation as well as maintenance and recreation. “This is very important to the troops”.
Recreation facilities include a small gymnasium, satellite television and dining facilities. There is also a workshop tent with a crane facility to maintain boats and vehicles.
The base camp is supported by a container-based GrahamTek water treatment facility and a separate Aquamat sewerage treatment plant. The water facility can produce up to 50 000 litres of potable water from a variety of sources, including seawater, boreholes, muddy or contaminated water.
The camp also has its own electricity plant and distribution system, provided by RHS.
The Link ZA-complaint C3I system is being provided by Saab Grintek and fits into three containers, of which one is “just for communications.”
Marais says the C3I is “very easy to operate but behind it is a fair degree of sophistication.” It includes the communications suite, an electronic plotting table and a radar subsystem.
The boats report their position automatically every 20 seconds and this is shown in real-time on the plotting table. “The camp has radar for its own protection; it detects all moving targets and plots them on the table as well.
“The communications suite is not very sophisticated but covers a wide range so that we can have interoperability. We can speak to any UN command; we have satellite, Internet, international and local telephone dialling, radio telephony, both open and secure, including frequency hopping HF (high frequency.”
Marais adds that the C3I complex was designed with interoperability in mind. “It is important to the SANDF to have interoperability, whether it is Air Force, Army or Navy. So the whole comms system was designed to be Link ZA complaint.
“The interoperability requirement is from SANDF Joint Operations (Division) side. One can plug the boats out and plug in infantry fighting vehicles. It can be done. The interoperability is there. We have tested it and it actually work,” Marais says.
The system is Project Legend as well as Radiate compliant. “They`ll definitely talk to each other,” Marais says. Legend is a brigade-and-below C3I system Saab is currently developing for the SA Army while Radiate is a programme to develop a new generation of interoperable tactical radios for the SANDF.
Marais says the C3I system allows the MRS to electronically exchange tactical pictures with the SAN`s fleet of frigates and submarines and the SA Air Force`s Lynx helicopters.
The system also sports ECCM (electronic counter-counter measures) that allows it to defeat monitoring and jamming.
“We had to do the interoperability which cost some money for future utilisation. If you listen to the Chief of the Navy (Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu), you`ll hear he talks about a netcentric system for the whole SANDF.
“I support C Navy`s view on interoperability and the integration of forces … this little system is part of that.”
“The system is useless if it does not include transport. The transport component therefore includes forklifts, Toyota Hilux bakkies and some large 10mt flatbed trucks. The latter will arrive at the beginning of the new financial year.
“The fifth element, most importantly, is armament. This we had to beg, borrow and steel on a shoestring budget. We would like to have seen better weapons, but we do believe with future successes we might get the money to improve this a little bit.”
Marais says the boats are armed with a Browning 12.7mm heavy machine gun forward and a Project Pigeon SS77 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) aft. The RFD is armed with R4 assault rifles, GPMG, Y2 six-shot low velocity 40mm grenade launchers and rocket propelled grenade launchers.
“The cooperation and support between the Army and Navy is very good. We can loan items for training. If there is a specific mission where we have to be heavily armed, I have the confidence we will come right between the Army and Navy.
Value for money
With Xena the MRS “will be totally self sufficient and self contained, Marais says. “But it is just a small cog in a bigger system…”
Marais did not want to discuss the cost of the project on record but Navy chief director maritime strategy Rear Admiral Bernard Teuteberg has previously said the project budget was R85 million.
This constitutes value for money, says Marais. “One thing I can say as someone who has been involved in acquisitions for the SANDF – primarily the Navy, but also the Air Force, for many years is that the Navy is getting a lot for that money. It is probably the best value ever.”
He says this was in part accomplished by working on a “shoe string” budget and in part by emphasising local content and supportability. I`ve done some homework. Never before has a total system been delivered with so high a local content, 97.2% local. Don`t forget the point two percent.”