Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2008-12-03 Reporter: Angela Quintal

Navy to Buy 6 Ships Worth R2bn



Cape Times



Reporter Angela Quintal
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The acquisition of six additional state-of-the-art naval vessels valued at nearly R2-billion and the planned purchase of strategic sealift and sustainment vessel will see the South African navy on track to becoming the continent's most formidable and powerful naval force.

This was revealed during the address on the state of the navy's combat readiness by navy chief, Vice-Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Announcing bold plans to improve the navy's fighting and peacekeeping capabilities, senior naval officers revealed that while the navy had fallen victim to a "major" brain drain and the global economic pinch, it had not lost its ability to achieve its objectives.

These include the formation of the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS), as well as procurement plans to acquire new multi-million inshore and offshore patrol vessels and a multi-purpose strategic sealift and sustainment vessel.

The estimated cost of the acquisition of six patrol vessels under Project Biro will see the navy spending nearly R1,8-billion on its new boats, which are expected to begin being built over the next four to six years.

The 55m inshore patrol vessel, which will be fitted with a 30mm cannon, is set to cost R200m per boat, while its 85m counterpart, which will be fitted with helicopter capabilities as well as a 76mm cannon, will cost an estimated R400m for each boat *1.

The boats will be used to combat crime along South Africa's shoreline such as drug smuggling, human trafficking and poaching.

The MRS, according to Admiral Bernie Teutenberg (sic - Teuteberg), chief director for maritime strategy, was born out of a need to address problems along both coastal and inland waters.

The MRS will be divided into three sections, which include an operational boat division consisting of 16 harbour patrol boats and landing boats with four crew per boat, a company-sized reaction force and four operational diving teams of 17 divers each.

"The doctrine for the MRS, which will recruit its members through the military skills development system, is about having a mix of capabilities so that should a threat arise, no matter what it is, it can be dealt with," Teutenberg said.

He added that the squadron, which will have a mirrored reserve structure, would have its own command and control structures and technical support teams. The creation of such a squadron could see such units being deployed on board the navy's frigates.

"While there is no direct link between the training that the MRS and the army's marine infantry battalion is receiving, they will on occasions undergo similar training programs such as weapons training.

"Other than this there is no direct link between the training which will see the MRS members undergoing specialised training which includes, among other maritime tasks, how to board vessels at sea," Teutenberg said.

He added: "What makes our MRS unique compared to the rest of the world's specialised maritime squadrons is its inter-operability within the squadron itself.

"Depending on the mission the teams can be made as big or as small as is needed," he said.

Commenting on Project Biro, Teutenberg said the documentation was being completed and that if all went well the first hull would be laid by 2012.

"These vessels will make a massive contribution to the navy's capabilities," he said.

On the proposed acquisition of the strategic sealift and sustainment vessel, Mudimu, referring to how the boat would be used by all arms of service, said Project Millennium would be the first ever joint user project in the defence force.

"The navy has engaged with the different arms of service and was ready on Monday to meet the military command council.

"Unfortunately, that meeting was postponed so we will now meet in the new year," he said, adding that he was confident that the project would be approved.

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With acknowledgements to Angela Quintal and Cape Times.

*1       It looks like three of each type.

Can this really be effective?

Surely not, but maybe this is all we can now afford after spending R30 billion [2008 Rands] on four new frigates and three new submarines.

Also if the SA Navy sends frigates to do anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, this will leave a gap in local force deployment.

The smaller patrol vessels are partly replacing the strike craft, of which there were nine, and partly replacing small inshore patrol vessels.

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that the SA Navy requires six vessels of each size and not six in total.

Six vessels of each size would cost R3,6 billion in total, about the cost of one MEKO 200AS frigate.

If we had purchased the Bazan 590B frigate rather than the Blohm+Voss MEKO 200AS the saving in cost would have paid for six offshore patrol vessels and six inshore patrol vessels.

The total contract value of the four MEKO 200AS was R6,873 billion while that for the 590B would have been about R5,2 billion, i.e. about R1,6 billion in 1998 Rands or between R3,0 billion and R4,0 billion in 2008 Rands.

The Bazan 590B was concluded by the SA Navy in its formal Corvette Military Evaluation Report and after a very rigourous evaluation to offer the highest Military Value.

It was indeed the SA Navy's preferred choice.