defenceWeb – 8 September 2020
South Africans have to talk about “their” national defence force, particularly as regards its funding, is the major conclusion of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) following a mini-symposium where insight into shortcomings was highlighted.
On the state of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), symposium discussion points relating only to combat elements in the four services pointed out 27 different areas of concern.
As far as the landward force goes these include insufficient combat units to provide effective border safeguarding, participate in peace support or intervention missions and sustain a contingency resmozerve as well as lack “sufficient young and fit personnel to staff even existing combat units”. The SANDF also faces equipment obsolescence (including inadequate air defence and zero reconnaissance UAVs) and tellingly, lacks funds to maintain and/or upgrade equipment, and cannot conduct effective unit and formation level training.
On the maritime force, the discussion points note the SA Navy has too few ships to patrol South African waters, including Marion and Prince Edward islands and the Mozambique Channel “effectively”. It also has too few shipboard helicopters for “even the available platforms”, lacks maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft, has only one support vessel, has no sealift capability and only limited lake and river operations capability in the regional mission context.
As with the Army it lacks funding to maintain, refit or upgrade equipment and sea training and cannot replace obsolete equipment.
The litany of woes is applicable to the airborne service as well with inadequate radar coverage, inadequate image and electronic reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence capabilities as well as, among others, no tanker aircraft and a lack of airlift. There is also no funding to maintain or upgrade aircraft and equipment or replace obsolete equipment.
Special Forces are too small, lack specialised equipment and have to do without dedicated airlift for insertion and extraction.
“This dialogue (at the mini-symposium) was necessary to isolate pertinent issues in our oversight over the SANDF, especially in relation to fiscal constraints and the state of the national defence force, as articulated by the defence review,” JSCD co-chair Cyril Xaba said.
A critical issue raised is the need for national consensus on funding the SANDF, as there is a mismatch between what the defence force is required to do and budgetary constraints related to that. The reality is the current state of South Africa’s economy is poor and the likelihood of an improvement is dependent on external variables are outside South Africa’s control.
“In relation to personnel, various views were expressed on the balance between short-, medium- and long-term service, which led to an imbalance between deployable force and administration. Similarly, lack of an exit mechanism contributes to increased personnel costs, exacerbated by rank inflation. The experts agreed a robust conversation is needed on the ideal exit mechanism in South Africa’s situation and funding it.
“Another key agreement was while the SANDF faces massive challenges, some aspects of the defence force function well. There is, however, an urgent need to address the gaps preventing optimal functioning.
“The committee agreed solutions require long-term planning to ensure the SANDF is fit for purpose. To this end, the committee resolved leadership of the SANDF will consider the issues and ways to address them in the short-, medium- and long-term,” Xaba said in a statement.