Publication :Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy Issued: Date: 1996-10-01 Reporter:

SA Navy Response to an Alternative to the SA Navy's Corvettes



Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy
Occasional Paper No 12

Date June 1996 (sic)


Commodore Theo Honiball (ret),
Former Chief of Naval Staff Planning

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The SA Navy would like to express its concern about the paper written by Commodore Theo Honiball (ret) on An Alternative to the SA Navy's Corvettes (IDP Paper 11), in which certain information was inaccurately and incorrectly represented.

Price of Helicopters

Commodore Honiball (ret) writes

"In addition to this budget, the Navy has planned an additional R8OO million to purchase helicopters which will be carried by the proposed corvettes."

The SANDF never had R800 million allocated on its planned budget to purchase helicopters to be carried by the proposed corvettes. This figure is hundreds of millions of rands in excess of what such helicopters will cost the SA Navy, and the actual amount that has been budgeted for.

Staff Requirement

Commodore Honiball (ret) writes

"The Navy's present course is all or nothing as it cannot back down on its stated staff requirement, and the risk is that in the present deteriorating climate, the Navy will get nothing."

Commodore Honiball, who was the Chief of Naval Staff Planning until his retirement four years ago, should remember very well that the SA Navy has already reduced its requirements from the original staff requirement in terms of military specifications, weapon and combat suites. With respect to the latter, provision will be made for certain systems, but these systems will not be fitted in accordance with the core force approach as prescribed in the White Paper on Defence. These systems will be fitted as and when required. This is a common approach taken by navies world-wide.

Determinants of Force Design

Commodore Honiball (ret) writes

"Unfortunately, the external threat guardians, the SANDF, will have to shift their funds to fight an internal threat."

The new Constitution states that "[t]he primary object of the defence force is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people, in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force." It further states that "the defence force may be employed in co-operation with the Police service, in defence of the Republic or in fulfilment of an international obligation, only under the authority of the President."

The White Paper also states that all these functions do not carry equal weight and that "the primary function of the SANDF is to defend South Africa against external military aggression." The other functions are secondary. Therefore, the size, design, structure and budget of the SANDF will be determined mainly by its primary function.


Commodore Honiball (ret) writes

"The Navy's other ships (the supply ships Drakensberg and Outeniqua) that operate helicopters were conspicuous in their absence when the OCEANOS sank."

Commodore Honiball (ret) is quite correct in terms of this paragraph

* At the time of the sinking of the OCEANOS, SAS OUTENIQUA bore the name JUVENT and was still in possession of the Russians;

* SAS OUTENIQUA was acquired by the SA Navy at the end of 1992, eighteen months after the OCEANOS disaster; and

* SAS DRAKENSBERG was on its way to Bangladesh on a mercy mission.

Commodore Honiball (ret) would have been well-advised to check these facts before making such statements in a paper published for the use and information of the security and defence establishment.

Use in Peace and War

Commodore Honiball (ret) writes

"Experience in the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea ensures that these craft remain seaworthy in bad weather ... These 500 ton ships ... are so versatile that they can be fully utilised in peace and war."

The European country in question which produced these particular vessels found them seaworthy, but unsuitable to conduct sustained operations in the North Atlantic. This resulted in the country concerned acquiring 3 500 ton vessels.

The corvettes which the SA Navy plans to acquire are multipurpose maritime helicopter carrying combat ships with modest capabilities in many disciplines, including anti-submarine and anti-air and surface warfare, capable of conducting sustained operations in sea conditions, such as those off the South African coast. Their capabilities will allow them to be used to cover a wide range of military, constabulary or other peacetime tasks. They will be particularly good at maintaining a South African 'presence' when naval forces are used in general, involving deployments, port visits, exercises and routine naval operations in areas of national interest. When a stronger message is required, these vessels will be used as part of a carefully tailored force with an offensive capability that could act as a signal of will and strategic intent of greater concern or to encourage a friend or ally.

New frigates would cost three to four times more than the South African corvette. The South African corvette is an appropriate, feasible and viable solution and fits in with a " ... balanced, modern, affordable and technologically advanced military force, capable of executing its tasks effectively and efficiently" as prescribed in the White Paper on Defence.

It is disappointing that Commodore Honiball (ret) wrote a paper that contained so many inaccuracies and without consulting the SA Navy beforehand. At a sensitive stage in South Africa's development and with the enhancement of the new SANDF in general, and the SA Navy in particular, it is imperative that specific cases, such as the one dealing with South Africa's corvettes, are presented by scholars and practitioners alike, in a responsible and accurate manner. If the basic principles of good scholarship are adhered to, a true contribution will be made to the Institute for Defence Policy's vision to enhance the "security and stability in Africa by researching, documenting and monitoring trends related to factors which affect individual, collective, regional and international security."

With acknowledgements to Commodore Theo Honiball (ret) and Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy.