The national border protection tasking Operation Corona is widely acknowledged as one powered more by people than any high-tech equipment and questions are being asked about deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and cyber technology to beef it up.
At a recent Security Cluster meeting in Parliament, this line was followed by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party MP Shahid Esau. He wanted to know from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula if the national defence force was considering the employment of cyber technology and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to “bolster reconnaissance and early warning capabilities”. The shadow deputy defence and military veterans minister also wanted to know what the current status of the national cyber strategy was and whether the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) would consider co-operation agreements with other countries on cyber technology applications.
He was told “the cyber strategy has been developed and submitted for approval (without any qualification of which body or person will approve it)” and co-operation agreements on cyber technology “may be considered where deemed prudent, desirable and beneficial to South Africa”.
With no direct response forthcoming on high-tech equipment to make Operation Corona more efficient and effective, defenceWeb approached military analyst Helmoed Heitman for input.
At the outset he states South Africa’s land borders are too long and open to cover effectively only with patrols.
“The focus should be, in order of priority: intelligence, including liaison with neighbouring countries and leaning heavily on border communities and particularly farmers and their workers; sensors, radar, thermal and even acoustic; aerial surveillance including aircraft, UAVs and aerostats; pseudo-random ops and pseudo-random patrols (foot patrols, mounted patrols and vehicle patrols, the latter by armour crews using simpler vehicles than their normal types). These should be backed up by spotter aircraft with sensors (Koiler Caravan) and heliborne reaction teams on the one hand and in-depth pseudo-random checkpoints, best provided by the SA Police Service.”
Heitman maintains UAVs can make a major difference.
“From large high-endurance ones operated from airfields to smaller tactical ones operated from patrol basis and very small ones in vehicles or backpacks for ‘looking over that hill’.”
He is also in favour of making use of other airborne assets for border protection and quotes former 2 Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Musa Mbhokota.
“He made the point to me that the Gripen with its thermal imager can do valuable work along the borders and above our waters and quickly, providing information for others to follow up.”