Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2002-07-09 Reporter: Sapa Editor:

SANDF to Test its Readiness


Publication  Business Day
Date 2002-07-09
Reporter Sapa
Web Link


The SA National Defence Force is planning to conduct a major exercise in the Free State and Northern Cape in September, the military said.

Captain Nico Allie said army, air force and military health elements would simulate an airborne peacekeeping intervention operation near Bloemfontein, to be followed by a multinational relief operation at the Army's Combat Training Centre at Lohatlha.

Planners from 43 SA Brigade, which will command the exercise, will next week "war game" their plan to identify flaws.

The force to be deployed for "Exercise Iron Eagle" will be one of the largest in recent years.

It includes a parachute battalion group (1 Parachute Battalion Group), a mechanised infantry battalion (61 Mechanised Battalion), a light infantry battalion (6 SA Infantry Battalion), a composite artillery regiment, a composite air defence artillery battalion, two ZT3 anti-tank missile troops from 1 Special Service Battalion, and a tank squadron from 1 SA Tank Regiment.

An infantry battalion is generally some 700 strong, an artillery battalion usually has three batteries of six to eight weapons each, a tank squadron has around 14 main battle tanks, and an anti-tank missile troop should have four vehicles with missile launchers.

Supporting elements will include a field engineer regiment, a tactical intelligence squadron and a logistics battalion.

According to the exercise scenario, part of the drill will be conducted under the UN Charter's Chapter 6 peacekeeping rules and partly under the more aggressive Chapter 8, which allows Lesotho-style interventions.

The exercise will start with airborne troops pre-emptively seizing an airport and its approaches, after which a mobile grouping will link up with the paratroopers overland to practise various scenarios, including an extraction and withdrawal from fictional warring states.

Beeld newspaper reported on Tuesday that a total of 53% of the defence force's 60 000 soldiers cannot be operationally deployed because they are medically unfit.

Although their illnesses are not known, one of the problems is the age of riflemen and privates. The worldwide average age of troops is about 22, but in South Africa they are between 32 and 36.

That means the defence force has only one battalion (about 1,300 soldiers) to deploy at a time, most of whom are already deployed in peace operations in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

These statistics were released at an indaba of the defence force and the portfolio committee on defence.

A lack of funds is also affecting the SANDF, with most of its budget going to cover salary costs rather than military readiness. An example of this is that only 30 of the army's more than 150 Olifant tanks are operational.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and Business Day.