SA Navy 'Far from Shipshape' Skills Shortage: 'Basic Repairs Not Being Done'
The Navy has bought sophisticated vessels but does not have 'an operations and support budget to match', says Young.
Too cash-strapped to pay for their maintenance and lacking the skills to properly operate them, the SA Navy are running their controversial new warships into the ground and failing to properly maintain them, in some cases because they cannot afford to buy batteries from a shop at R30 a time.
These are among the claims being made about the navy as former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota is in negotiations with the German Frigate Consortium to buy another multi-billion rand warship for the fleet.
Dr Richard Young, the Managing Director of Cape Town-based defence electronics company CCII Systems told The Citizen that the navy was increasingly unable to perform even the most basic maintenance and that poorly trained crew were in danger of damaging the ships' systems.
Young, who lost out on a multi-million-rand contract to supply the combat suite systems for South Africa's four new frigates, still supplied vital navigation equipment to the navy for use in the vessels. Young's combat suite equipment was rejected in favour of a French product which the navy did not want, but which was favoured by defence acquisition boss Chippy Shaik, brother of convicted fraudster Schabir whose company sold the French equipment to the navy.
But Sam Mkhwanazi, spokesman for the Department of Defence told The Citizen that all the new vessels purchased by the Navy were being properly maintained and kept in good order.
Said Mkhwanazi: "The corvettes are being used and so are the submarines. That alone should make it clear that they are being properly maintained and operated. I would be lying to you if I were to say that the heads of the various services do not want bigger budgets, but the budgets are adequate to properly maintain the craft and keep them in service."
Mkhwanazi said that the reason one submarine had been in dry dock for months apparently undergoing major repairs after it was damaged was due to routine maintenance and the navy's policy of operating only two submarines at a time.
Young poured scorn on the claim that maintenance was being carried out, saying: "The navigation and distribution system (NDS) that we supplied for those frigates needs occasional maintenance.
Low-level maintenance would normally be carried out by naval personnel and more complex work by us.
However, we have never been asked to perform any actual corrective maintenance on the system. Should the NDS fail, the ship would not be able to take part in combat."
Young said that on a recent examination of the frigates' systems, he noticed that a battery needed replacing, but was told that the R30 battery could not be replaced as there were no funds earmarked for it.
Young also said that a vital piece of equipment, a fibre-optic test set, which is used to check the function of equipment on board, had also gone missing and he had been told that it was suspected of being stolen.
Young's company supplied four of these test sets to the navy, one for each frigate, and has not replaced the missing one. This, according to Young, means that at least one of the frigates lacks the equipment needed to check that all its electronics systems are operating properly.
The facility from where the test set vanished, the System Support Centre, is a new facility where private technicians have been hired to conduct work previously undertaken by the navy.
Said Young: "The Navy is trying to do its best in a situation in which it has found itself, with two new classes of expensive vessels more or less simultaneously taken into service, but without an operations and support budget to match."
With acknowledgements to Paul Kirk and The Citizen.