SA Navy Prepares the Fleet for the Future
SA Shipping News
He is certainly qualified to make such a statement. He has been with the SA Navy (SAN) for 38 years, 6 of which have been in his present job, and he is soon to retire.
According to him the quality and depth of the training they receive can be attributed to the past era - when South Africa was in isolation for many years. He says he spent three years in London and when officers were sent on courses, he would be asked why they were sent because the candidates seemed to already know enough to qualify and were normally well ahead of the rest of the class.
"The standard has been maintained and the training is excellent," he says proudly.
Another example is the Red Lion Exercise, which took place earlier this year. "Our torpedoes and missiles hit the targets they were aimed at. In spite of obsolescent equipment, it still works, and works well. That is once again an indication of our technological expertise," he adds.
Similarly the SAN has just completed an exercise called Transoceanic which 9 different countries including two observers - Namibia and Angola - participated in - and which was a great success.
Admiral Soderlund believes that maritime interests in South Africa are completely undervalued.
"We have more sea area (1.5 million km*) under our control than we have land area (I .I million kmz), particularly if the continental shelf is taken into consideration," he says. He cites reasons why South Africa's maritime interests are underestimated. The facts are that container shipping is critical, 97% of the imports and exports in tonnage pass through the ports, 77% of the value of the imports and exports come by sea and 35% of GDP comes from coastal resources. Similarly, future oil and gas will come from the sea.
"This will make a massive difference to the economy of the country. How do you protect our national interests?" he asks.
Admiral Soderlund says the reasons for selecting the corvettes were many. They are defensive, cannot be picked up on radar, have range, speed and a big helicopter deck. Other African countries all depend on South Africa as a regional power to eventually assist them.
"A Navy is an insurance policy - we are called on to help when the chips are down. We help to defend South Africa, its people and its maritime interests. If we are called on to assist, as we did in the case of the Viarsa fishing vessel, then we can do so. We are a very professional navy, we think and react the same way as a first world navy," he says.
Admiral Soderlund says the SAN is small but efficient and has the ability to send ships over long distances and to support them. He has statistics at his fingertips to prove that it is not growing: in 1922 they had 3 ships and 164 people; in 1990 26 ships and 13000 members, in 1992 there were 26 ships and 10 000 members, in 2000 there were 22 ships and 8000 members and this year, there are 26 ships and 6400 members.
Vessels still in operation are : SAS Protea - a survey ship that is being fitted with a multi beam echo sounder. Protea will be going out to establish the continental shelf, which is very critical for South Africa's future.
SAS Drakensberg - built in South Africa in 1987 and is a replenishment ship for vessels deployed. She can carry ammunition, fuel, water, food, and provide medical services.
SAS Outeniqua - commissioned in 1993 and used mainly for sealift. Outeniqua can carry containers or roll-on roll-off cargo such as army vehicles, up and down the coast as required. She also can go to the ice but her ice (Antarctica) clearance has lapsed.
Submarine - one of the commissioned in the 1970s is currently in operation mainly serving the purpose of training young sub mariners. Three new submarines are on order for delivery in three years. The last Daphne Class submarine will come out of service at the end of the year and the SAN will be making use of foreign training in the interim. The SAN is currently considering options presented to them by several nations who have offered to assist with training.
Strike Craft - there are currently four strike craft in commission. They are not being replaced by the corvettes but some of the tasks they do will be done by them. The intention is to keep them for at least two years after the corvettes are commissioned as small coastal patrol vessels, and secondly to use them as a credible red force (enemy) while the corvette crews are worked up to operational level.
Mine Counter Measures and Patrol vessels. These include two River class mine hunters which are now primarily used as diving support. SAN also has one City class mine hunter in operation and a second is planned to be put into operation in the first half of next year. The Old Ton class vessels have all been disposed of.
Inshore Patrol vessels (IPV) of which there are three. They are T-craft and have a catamaran hull. One is in Durban and the other two are in Cape Town. They are used mainly for inshore patrol and one of them was sent to Maputo to assist with the AU summit meeting earlier this year.
Falling under combat support is the operational diving team (ODT). The SAN has 4 diving teams, one available at two hours notice, two at 8 hours notice and one at 24 hours notice. They are available for big emergency operations such as the passenger ferry that sank on Lake Victoria. Three teams are based in Cape Town and one in Durban.
Similarly, the operational boat squadron (OBS) which although it has not been officially formed, has already been deployed! There are 26 members and three boats currently operating on Lake Tanganyika, as part of the AU Mission in Burundi.
Admiral Soderlund says a corvette and a frigate is not the same thing.
"A 1902 cruiser was 2600 tons, and a destroyer was 400 tons, strike craft today is 440 tons. So the difference between a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, and corvette is the function, not the size," he says.
A corvette is a more basic general purpose vessel whereas a frigate is normally specialised for a warfare role. The corvette can detect a submarine in its vicinity and thus protect itself. An antisubmarine (as) frigate however has varied sophisticated systems, which enable her to actively hunt down and prosecute submarines over large area. An anti- air frigate can similarly protect a large area and any other vessels within its range by shooting down attacking airplanes and missiles. The corvette too has effective anti-air missile and guns but are of short range and effective for self-protection and any units in the immediate vicinity.
Admiral Soderlund is derisive of the perception that the SAN has no money and is reserved about send vessels to sea.
"Money is tight and we have to be careful that we don't go to sea unnecessarily, but there is definitely no restriction. We have a reserve of fuel and various operations are budgeted for," he says.
"A more serious problem is staffing. The corvette programme is causing a drain on the other ships but we meet this by transferring people between ships particularly when a vessel has to be maintained. With remaining ships, can reduce the number of people a little and if a vessel is required in a hurry, then we do have the people to handle this," he adds.
So what's next? "Probably a multi-role hull in 500 to 700 ton range that ultimately will replace the strike craft, mine hunters and patrol vessels. Also a larger multi-purpose vessel, to eventually replace the current combat support ships. But it must be versatile and capable of supporting the Fleet at sea, sealift in support of landward operations such as peace support or disaster relief and also capable of working through unprepared ports," says Admiral Soderlund.
"We are not unique in this. Other navies are thinking the same way," he concludes.
With acknowledgement to the Shipping News.