Up Budget to Keep Navy Afloat
In response to the article SA Navy "far from shipshape", by Paul Kirk, in The Citizen on September 26 2008, I would like to make a few clarifying comments.
Contrary to what the department of defence spokesman says, the Navy's new vessels are not being properly maintained because the Navy's budget is inadequate to properly maintain the vessels and keep them in service.
The Navy's problems stem from not having enough money to retain engineering and other technical skills, in order to carry out the required work, as well as insufficient funds for other necessary support expenditure.
This is not the fault of the Navy, but that of the government, who insisted that the Navy should get two new classes of sophisticated vessels simultaneously, but did not provide at the same time the requisite operating and support budget.
This was on top of substantially reduced defence spending even before acquisition of the vessels.
Your readers and other observers should be reminded that the acquisitions were funded by the government out of its special defence account, which is a capital budget, but that the Navy's running budget derives from its allocation of the SANDF annual budget.
At present the Navy's entire running budget is R1,8 billion a year which is a very modest amount to operate and support more than a dozen medium to large vessels, including four ultra-sophisticated guided missile frigates and three modern coastal attack submarines.
Under the circumstances the Navy is actually doing a sterling job overall, but this surely cannot be sustained long-term, especially if the Navy gets more vessels to compliment and complete the force.
The examples quoted in the article, albeit true, are actually rather minor in the greater scheme of things, but are the type appreciable by readers unfamiliar with the complexity of modern ships' systems and were obviously those chosen by the author to exemplify the plight of an organisation strapped for skills and other resources. These examples are only that and need not be taken much further than that.
However, that said, if the Navy continues to be under-funded, then a slippery slope or vicious circle can quickly develop, and that actually was the main point of both the article and my contribution to it.
Indeed what has been lost in the editing of the originally drafted article is that I was contacted for my views after the recent fleet review by ex-President Mbeki and in particular, my response to where he is quoted as saying that: "Today we have a South African Navy that has the capacity to accomplish the full range of maritime strategic objectives and missions that are consistent with the domestic and international task which a democratic South Africa has set itself."
I do not believe this to be true because the country would not be considering acquiring at least eight more capital vessels, and because currently the SA Navy does not have the budget to fully operate nor properly support its current fleet.
In my view, a very modest increase in the SANDF budget can make for a meaningful increase in the SA Navy's budget which will allow all of its assets to be fully utilised and properly supported.
While the country does indeed have many spending priorities, the only way that the acquisition of the new frigates and submarines can be justified is if they are optimally utilised and they simply cannot be without an adequate running budget.
At present this annual running budget is a mere fraction of the acquisition cost of the new vessels and the government was advised prior to acquisition that the cost of ownership over the typical 30-year lifespan, would exceed the acquisition cost by a factor of between 10 and 20. So the government should have then been and should still be prepared to allocate somewhat more than the R720 million a year to run the entire naval fleet.
Indeed, in my view, a reasonably modest increase on this amount will allow the Navy to do its job properly while representing a minuscule fraction of the overall budget.
With acknowledgements to Richard Young and The Citizen.