Army Wants a Few Million to Upgrade Its Ageing Equipment
Chiara Carter, Jeremy Michaels
The dust has not yet settled from the multibillion-rand arms deal - but the military is gearing up for new purchases.
This time round it is the army's turn to go shopping and the wish list is far more modest but not without room for controversy.
The army is spending millions on upgrading some of its ageing equipment to get it through the next decade.
While improving rations is not likely to raise eyebrows, there is already debate within and beyond the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) about spending billions on tanks that will have limited use in peacekeeping missions - increasingly a key role played by the defence force.
The army's needs and plans will come under scrutiny by MPs during the current defence review.
Parliament's defence committee is reviewing the cornerstone 1998 Defence Review in the light of a changed international climate, South Africa's greater role in peacekeeping missions on the continent and problems that include the health and age of the country's forces.
Meanwhile, delivery of vessels and aircraft bought in terms of the arms deal is well under way and will continue until 2012.
As spending on these strategic defence packages decreases, the army is to get a turn to shop and the ground forces have some pressing needs - from combat vehicles to uniforms.
January Masilela, the defence secretary, said the army's needs assessment was "well advanced" and that the planning of several projects was taking place.
These included a project called Operation Warrior, a plan to forge the most modern soldier imaginable.
While Operation Warrior includes shopping for food, night-vision equipment and the like, at the other end of the spectrum, the most costly item on the army's wish list seems set to elicit the most debate - tanks.
New battle tanks to replace the army's elderly Olifants were initially included in one of the strategic packages of the arms deal, but, in the end, the tanks were not purchased.
Now the need for tanks is back in the spotlight with both Mosiuoa Lekota, the defence minister, and Masilela saying better tanks are needed.
However, even within senior ranks of the army there is debate about whether the country can afford to buy enough tanks to be an effective deterrent in wartime and whether other more mobile and easily transportable combat vehicles should not be prioritised.
Other items on the army's shopping list include: combat vehicles (Project Hoofyster), ground-based air defence systems (Gbads), armoured troop carriers (Project Sepula) and lorries (Project Vistula).
Masilela said money would gradually become available to buy equipment as the arms procurement package big spending wound down.
He said new equipment for the army was essential to prevent the country's troops ending up with totally obsolete equipment.
"It's quite serious. The land force is the main force where the peacekeeping troops are. We are coping now, but in the near future it will really catch up with us," Masilela said.
The first steps towards obtaining new combat vehicles had been taken, he said, and preparations for the Gbads were well under way, as was the upgrading of tents for soldiers.
Combat vehicles were the army's "major platform" and it was important to have inter-operability between the different vehicles used.
Masilela said some of the army's projects would kick in only after 2012 when the Gripen aircraft delivery was completed. "We'll have more resources after we complete acquisition."
While the army waits for billions of rands to buy new goods, the next decade will also see millions of rands spent on upgrading existing equipment.
"The next 10 years will see the department of defence undertaking appropriate mid-life upgrades of existing... prime mission equipment to ensure operational availability over the remaining life cycle," said Sam Mkhwanazi, the ministry of defence communication director.
These upgrades include spending on the fleet of Casspirs earmarked for replacement.
"The army is upgrading the remaining Casspir Mk2 vehicle fleet. This will enable the army to manage its Casspir Mk3 vehicle fleet on one logistical baseline until 2015 when the capability will be phased out, as this is the expected end of its usable life cycle," Mkhwanazi said.
Helmoed Romer-Heitman, correspondent for the authorative Jane's Defence Weekly, said while at first glance the army's plans might seem expensive, given that the total spending would run to billions of rands, the list was in fact modest and the spending would take place over a period of years.
Kader Asmal, the defence committee chairperson, said his committee was examining the defence force's core role and function. He said the army's equipment needs would come under scrutiny in the course of the broader review.
With acknowledgements to Chiara Carter, Jeremy Michaels and the Sunday Independent.