Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2013-08-23 Reporter: Hopewell Radebe

SA was ‘in dire need of warships’ after arms embargo restrictions



Business Day

Date 2013-08-23

Hopewell Radebe

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SOUTH Africa was unable to purchase multimission-capable warships and submarines due to the arms embargo against it in the 1970s, R-Adm Philip Schoultz, Flag Officer Fleet in the navy, told the Seriti arms deal commission on Friday.

He said this was why the new democratic government had sought to start with such acquisitions when rejuvenating the military equipment for the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Speaking on the rationale of acquiring the frigates and submarines in the controversial multibillion arms deal, he said the South African Navy was in dire need of those military warships as far back as 1975 when the British unilaterally abrogated the Simon’s Town Agreement in June 1975.

By this time the South African Navy had acquired three type-12 frigates under the agreement and three French Daphne class submarines.

There was still a need to further expand the navy, but due to the arms embargo against South Africa following the UN Security Council resolution 418, the order for two A69 Aviso Corvettes and two Agosta-class submarines was cancelled.

South Africa was still able to acquire three strike craft warships from Israel that were much smaller than frigates. A further six strike craft patrol boats were then built locally.

"Whereas these vessels rendered excellent service and were able to provide good surface warfare offensive capabilities, they lacked an antisubmarine warfare capability, ability to carry a helicopter to provide for over-the-horizon surveillance, scouting, targeting or attack.

"Due to their small size, they were severely limited in adverse sea conditions," R-Admiral Schoultz said.

He said that by the 1980s when the South African Navy tried to solicit political support to buy warships because the others were nearing the end of their lifecycles, nothing could be done due to lingering arms sanctions. The three type-12 frigates were eventually withdrawn from service in 1985.

By the time the new democratic government came into existence, the navy was already without vessels that had the capacity to carry out sustained operations and perform crucial tasks such as surface missile attacks, subsurface attacks, mine laying, sea training, self-defence and limited intelligence gathering.

R-Admiral Schoultz said between 1994 and 1995 the Department of Defence had held two tendering rounds with international bidders before the process was "deferred" in May 1995 by then Defence Minister Joe Modise, citing the need to "wait for the outcome of the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review" processes.

He said the tender process was only reopened in 1997 after the defence review process as part of the Strategic Defence Equipment Package initiative.

The process that started in 1980 was only approved by Cabinet in November 1998 and the German Frigate Consortium became a preferred bidder to build four new Meko A200 frigates.

The first of four frigates was delivered and commissioned into the South African Navy in February 2006, R-Admiral Schoultz said. The rest arrived in March 2007.

The commission adjourned early on Friday with evidence leader Adv Sammy Lebala SC undertaking to conclude next week with the last two witnesses to present evidence from the SA Navy.

After that Ms Matshego Ramagaga will lead evidence from the SA Air Force, possibly from Wednesday.


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 With acknowledgement to Hopewell Radebe and Business Day.

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