Unpacking the Arms Deal
EWN takes stock of the arms acquisitions and whether they’re delivering “bang for their buck”.
Much has been said about South Africa's 'strategic defense acquisition' or as it's more commonly known the 'arms deal'. Dating back to the late 1990s, the process has been mired in controversy with allegations of bribery and corruption involving some very senior South African officials.
Senior ANC official Tony Yengeni spent four months of a four-year jail term behind bars. Yengeni was convicted in 2004 of defrauding Parliament by lying about accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for one of the transactions related to the arms deal, while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal.
In 2001, public hearings led by the Public Protector were held amid ongoing questions about the integrity of the arms acquisitions. Fast forward more than a decade and the matter is once more being scrutinised by the Seriti Commission of Inquiry. This process has not been without controversy either. But while the Commission tries to deliver on its mandate, Eyewitness News has taken stock of the actual acquisitions and whether or not they're delivering "bang for their buck".
So what exactly did the acquisitions package consist of?
- 4 Valour MEKO A200 Corvettes - originally termed 'patrol corvettes' in an effort to indicate that what the Navy needed was a ship the size of a frigate (to give the endurance, range and ability to operate a helicopter in bad weather) but could not afford a full-scale frigate and therefore accepted a less comprehensive sensor and weapons system. They have since been re-designated frigates to fall in line with international usage.
- 3 Type 209 Submarines
- 26 Gripen fighter jets
- 30 AgustaWestland AW109 light utility helicopters originally bought from Agusta, which has since taken over Westland Helicopters in the UK.
- 4 AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 maritime helicopters originally ordered from Westland, which has since been taken over by Agusta
- 24 Hawk Mk 120 fighter trainer aircraft
According to Helmoed Heitman, South African correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly, all of the vessels and aircraft have been delivered, but there are still some minor outstanding items of support equipment, system integration and some training commitments concerning the Gripen fighter jets.
IS SOUTH AFRICA GETTING 'BANG FOR ITS BUCK'?
There have been numerous reports about how well used (or not) the equipment is.
The SA Navy appears to be getting fair use out of its frigates and submarines, despite operational challenges and the loss of key technical skills. All four frigates are in use, although all are currently in some stage of a maintenance programme. Heitman told Eyewitness News that South Africa only bought four vessels, on the assumption that the Navy would not operate outside SA waters.
However, South Africa has been involved in anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel, which has effectively tied up the entire force. The frigates also had to undertake some other missions that were not budgeted for. The net result was that in the first two years of Channel patrols the Navy used up more than four years' worth of planned sea time for the frigates - and four years' worth of spares - and all of the ships were behind in terms of routine maintenance. Treasury only provided additional funds for the patrol in 2013, which the Navy is now using to bring all four frigates back to full operational status.
Two of the three submarines are operational, compared to the Canadian Navy which has one out of four (none for almost ten years); the Australian Navy has only two out of six operational (sometimes only one) and the Royal Navy currently only has the use of one of its five nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines.
Heitman says the rationale was to have one submarine operational, one in the water undergoing minor maintenance and being used for training, and one out of the water in refit or awaiting refit. He adds that the new submarines have proven more reliable than their predecessors, allowing the Navy to recruit additional submariners which will enable it to have two fully operational at all times, with a partial third crew standing by the boat in reserve or refit.
The South African Air Force, which took delivery of most of the equipment in the arms deal, is having a tougher time of it - largely due to underfunding (which Heitman says dates back to the 1990s) as well as staff shortages. It took delivery of 26 Gripen fighter jets, but only some are in use for purposes of training and air space control and protection.
Gripens were used to control the air space over 2010 World Cup venues and four Gripens were also deployed to Kinshasa for a possible counterstrike after the fighting at Bangui. Currently, 12 Gripens are in long term storage.
Heitman says the air force was unable to keep up with fighter training programmes in the years before the introduction of the Gripens, as it was forced to retire its older fleets early due to budget constraints. It has been unable to sufficiently recover from that budget hangover to train enough pilots for the Gripen fleet and keep existing pilots up to speed with the aircraft and its systems. An unwelcome byproduct has been the resignation of experienced pilots and technicians, some of whom joined other air forces or commercial airlines.
The Hawks are in use, mainly to prepare pilots for the Gripen which is a faster aircraft with more complex systems and to keep qualified pilots current without flying all of their hours in the more expensive Gripen.
The SAAF also acquired 30 light utility helicopters which were in use, but were subsequently grounded after a few crashes. The fleet has since been cleared for use again, but is effectively grounded as the Air Force's limited fuel budget is being used for the Oryx, Rooivalk and Super Lynx maritime helicopters which are used on the navy's frigates.
Heitman believes the SAAF would have been better served by purchasing more of the Super Lynx helicopters as each frigate should ideally be operating two helicopters. All four aircraft that were bought are in service, being cycled between deployment aboard a frigate and maintenance.
However, he admits that while he would have made a few different purchasing decisions, "there is nothing much wrong with what we bought and the requirements were all real requirements that existed before the change of government."
Header images: AFP
Article pictures courtesy of Dean Wingrin