The shortage of modern equipment and platforms to satisfactorily patrol South Africa’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been put down to “bureaucratic drag” by a senior officer from the SA Navy’s warfare directorate.
Captain Andre Katerinic was answering questions posed during an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) seminar on Profit Versus Protection: Building Africa’s Blue Economy in Pretoria this week.
He said there were 14 vessels currently available in South Africa able to undertake maritime patrols and perform maritime surveillance. This includes the Navy’s fleet of warships ranging from the four Valour Class frigates, three Heroine class submarines, three OPVs (converted strikecraft) and mine counter-measures vessels.
The remainder of the national capacity for maritime patrol and inspection is vested in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) fleet. This includes the inshore protection vessels (IPVs) Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge and the Sarah Baartman, an 80 metre offshore protection vessel.
Asked specifically about airborne support in the form of either maritime patrol or maritime surveillance, he admitted it was “thin”, putting the lack of equipment in this specialist field down to “bureaucratic drag”. The naval warfare authority was of the opinion South Africa would be better served in terms of maritime surveillance by satellite and satellite-based systems.
“We have to be smart about this,” he said as regards future military spend on maritime patrol and surveillance.
The SA Air Force was seeking maritime surveillance aircraft under Project Saucepan, which was then divided into Projects Metsi (maritime patrol) and Kiepie for maritime surveillance and light transport. In its 2014/15 report the Department of Defence said it had budgeted for medium and light transport aircraft but the 2016/17 defence budget vote did not mention major SA Air Force acquisitions outside of missiles and radars and the Air Force budget is almost unchanged for the next several years.
As an example of the importance the seas and oceans of the world have internationally, Rear Admiral Rusty Higgs, SA Navy Chief of Naval Staff, pointed out the recent visit to South Africa by a task group from the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
“The Chinese naval forces will be increasing manpower numbers from the current 250 000 to 280 000 while the army is being cut which shows a shift in importance to matters maritime,” he said, adding there were a minimum of 180 Chinese naval vessels at sea daily.
Other speakers at the seminar gave insights into the need for African countries to own and control their own ports and run own shipping lines, instead of these being run by foreign companies with the profits leaving Africa.