20 December 2013 by Kim Helfrich - defenceWeb
When those in overall command of South Africa’s military, from Commander-in-Chief President Jacob Zuma, his Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke, review the force’s performance over the past 12 months it should result in more than a certain amount of introspection.
There was both good and bad for all four arms of service with the bad, in the form of body bags arriving at AFB Waterkloof, the most extreme.
On the good side, sterling performances by South African air- and ground-based elements deployed in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) showed the SANDF still has it what it takes.
While the men and women in uniform, as well as the civilian component of the SANDF, by and large acquitted themselves reasonably and in certain cases, exceptionally, well of the tasks assigned them, there are areas for concern.
The sight of body bags being carried off the cargo ramp of a 28 Squadron C-130BZ at the end of March brought home forcibly just what the cost of South African foreign policy could be. The 13 troops from 44 Parachute Regiment members who died in the Battle for Bangui were later joined on the fatality list by two more Regiment members who succumbed to wounds sustained in the Central African Republic.
These 15 deaths served as a timely reminder of the need for proper planning, in terms of logistic support, as well as the importance of good intelligence.
Shoke subsequently indicated the lessons learnt in Bangui would be taken to heart and they were when officers involved there assisted with training of the South African contingent that is now part of the UN’s first ever Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC.
The plus side of the ledger was be bolstered by two specific performances, again both beyond South Africa’s borders.
In the DRC a SANDF sniper racked up what is considered by experts to be one of the longest successful kill shots and the home-grown Rooivalk combat support helicopter proved to be too much for the M23 rebel group, which has long been a thorn in the side of FARDC (DRC government forces) and the UN Mission in that country.
A single successful sortie by a pair of 16 Squadron Rooivalks is viewed by military observers as the turning point that led to the M23 retreating. It also marked the Rooivalk’s first ever combat since the helicopter entered service with the SA Air Force.
While the SANDF has yet to officially comment on the more than two kilometre shot by the South African sniper deployed as part of the FIB, military watchers said it was the sixth longest confirmed successful sniper shot in military history.
Equipment-wise, the SA Army will be breathing much easier now that all the paperwork is finally completed and Denel Land Systems can start production of its long-awaited replacement for the Ratel infantry fighting vehicle: the Badger.
The first of 238 Badgers will be delivered to the landward arm of service in 2015 with the final vehicle’s delivery date currently set for 2022. Sadly, the delay in finalisation of the production contract has meant a drop of 56 in the number of Badgers to be built.
By all accounts the Navy has coped with its problems of manpower, platforms and a shortage of finance. While it did not take part in the year’s major naval event – the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review – successful exercises were concluded on both the east and west coast of Africa. The maritime arm of service was also the mainstay of Operation Copper, the Southern African Development Community three nation counter piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel.
Support in this operation was provided by the SA Air Force via a C-47TP and Oryx helicopter.
The airborne arm of the SANDF dispelled many of the rumours about its ability to put aircraft on the line – and in the sky – when no less than 10 jets (five Gripens and five Hawks) taking part in the Air Capability Demonstration at the Roodewal Bombing Range in September (no Gripens were airborne during the May edition of the Air Capability Demonstration).
This highlight apart, the SAAF saw a large portion of its Agusta A109 light utility helicopter fleet grounded, the cancellation of a maintenance contract with Denel Aviation’s Aero Manpower Group and more latterly a public relations debacle when a long planned aviation and lifestyle show at AFB Ysterplaat was cancelled less than two weeks before the event.