Navy CNS on SADC maritime security


South Africa’s maritime capability, both in terms of manpower and equipment, has shrunk dramatically since democracy but the Navy can do the job it is tasked for if properly resourced.

This was the crux of a presentation by Rear Admiral Rusty Higgs, Chief of Naval Staff, to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Proof of progress in the right direction he said was the approval of a project study for the acquisition of three each inshore and offshore patrol vessels (Project Biro). “The first ships are estimated in arrive in 2018,” he told the prospects for achieving maritime security in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) seminar.

The maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has already regained its blue water capability via the acquisition, through the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, of four Valour Class frigates and three Heroine class diesel-electric submarines.

As far as its joint combat support capability is concerned the Navy, like other arms of the SANDF, has to wait for Parliamentary approval of the Defence Review. This will pave the way for sealift to become part of the fleet in terms of Project Millennium. Another project involving combat support in terms of the SANDF’s stated one force concept is Mokoodi while the Navy’s important hydrographic service, led by SAS Protea, is also in line for revitalisation.
“The project study has been approved and delivery is estimated in 2017,” Higgs said of the replacement for Protea, which was launched in 1972.

He pointed out that the hydrography and search and rescue functions of the SA Navy was “not only a national responsibility but is associated with the execution of treaty obligations”.
“The SA Hydrographer is the co-ordinator for NAVAREA VII which stretches in the west from 6 degrees S 20 degrees W to the Antarctic coast and in the east from 10 degrees S 55 degree E to 30 degrees S 80 degrees E and again all the way to the Antarctic coast. South Africa’s search and rescue responsibility is substantially larger than this.”

Higgs said that 50 years ago the Navy fleet was 23 warships. “Today is it only 11.”

Analysing defence spending revealed a marked decline from an average of just over 16% of government spending in the 1980s where today the total defence budget is less than 1,2% of GDP – “significantly disparate in relation to responsibility and operational tempo”.

As far as the SADC region was concerned Higgs pointed out there was “a myriad of challenges in the maritime domain and no single littoral state on the continent, and certainly not in the region, is able to tackle them single-handedly”.
“What is required is a collective and collaborative approach to addressing issues related to maritime security. It is my belief, despite the challenges, obstacles placed in our way and perceived or actual differences of opinion, together we can chart a new course for our region, one aimed at providing safety, security and sustainability for all our people,” he said.