Financial woes continue to imped South African military’s readiness

Members of the South African Air Force can be seen flying a Oryx military helicopter as they participate in a military exercise called exercise Seboka at the Aasvoelkop training field in the Northern Cape, South Africa, 25 September 2014.The army held the training exercise to demonstrate its readiness to effectively deploy when commanded. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE

Two of the South African Air Force helicopter types– the Oryx transport and Rooivalk attack helicopter are largely grounded, with only a handful serviceable at present. Also, except for the frigate SAS Mendi, most of the South African Navy’s primary combat vessels are also not operational. For the landward force, there is a maintenance backlog for the G5 and G6 artillery and Samil trucks.

This is according to Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) 15 February reports to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on the maintenance status of the military equipment.

The South African Air Force fleet

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise said during a Parliamentary session that for the SA Air Force (SAAF) there are maintenance backlogs on Gripen, Hawk, Oryx and Falcon aircraft. The backlog was put down to expiry of maintenance contracts, all again in place according to Modise.


For the helicopter fleet of Rooivalk and Oryx, according toSouth African defenceWeb, only four of the 11 Rooivalk are serviceable, with seven either unserviceable or undergoing maintenance, and of the 23 engines in the fleet, only 13 are serviceable. Just seven serviceable out of a total of 39 in the fleet. Thirteen are at Denel for servicing while 19 Oryx are at squadrons awaiting servicing. A fixed cost contract and an on-demand work contract are in place for the Rooivalks helicopters until 30 September 2023, with R51 million provided. However, there is a shortage of R155 million on the contract.

SAAF helicopter capability has had its budget for the 2023/24 financial year cut by 30%, to R758 million (down from R1.1 billion in 2022/23). It will remain roughly the same in 2024/25 (R768 million) and 2025/26 (R821 million). The SAAF’s total budget allocation for 2023/24 is R7.1 billion.

An R133 million maintenance order valid until 31 March this year with only R110 million has been paid to date; Armscor is currently negotiating to have the order extended to 30 September 2023. Moving forward, there is insufficient funding to complete the 15-year major overhaul of engine and transmission systems for the Rooivalk, which will cost R692 million. 

For the SAAF C-130 Hercules fleet, a contract for the maintenance of these transport aircraft runs from 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2025. Of the five aircraft in the fleet, one is operational, two are undergoing maintenance and repair, and two are awaiting major overhaul. Additional funding to the tune of R1 billion has been made available in the 2023/24 financial year for medium air transport.

In December 2021, the South African Air Force (SAAF) temporarily grounded all of it’s Gripen multirole fighter fleet as none are serviceable. According to the Department of Defence (DoD), this is due to a lack of funding for maintenance, as support contracts were not renewed in time.

For year’s, the SANDF has been grappling with severe budget cuts which have been negatively impacting it’s operational efficiency. The air force has been unable to keep entire Hawk and Gripen fleets flying, and opted to place half of the Gripen fleet in ‘rotational storage’ in WaterKloof Air Force base.

A year later, Saab was awarded a service and maintenance support contract for the fleet that will run for three years from 2022 until 2025 and covers service, repairs and maintenance as well as minor updates of the support and training systems of the South African Air Forces Gripen system. The contract is worth R532 million over a three-year period.

South African Navy

For the South African Navy (SAN), The Valour Class frigates and Heroine Class Type 209 submarines are maintained “in accordance with budget” said Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise. The SAN is getting R4.9 billion for the 2023/24 financial year, as well as in 2024/25, and R5.2 billion in 2025/26. Of the R4.9 billion allocated for 2023/24, just R1.45 billion is going towards Maritime Combat Capability, with the remaining on logistics support, human resources, base support etc. but the majority of funds (R2.3 billion) is allocated to salaries.

And according to an Armscor presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on 15 February, which detailed the maintenance status of the SA Navy’s frigates and submarines, majority of the South African Navy’s primary combat vessels including frigates and submarines are not operational.

The frigate SAS Amatola is currently in a Docking and Essential Defect (DED) period, but work was temporarily suspended to prioritise the SAS Mendi, which was required for Armed Forces Day operations, says defenceWeb. The Mendi took part in AFD and Exercise Mosi II off the coast of Richards Bay along with the hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea, and the first new inshore patrol vessel, SAS King Sekhukhune I.

The frigate SAS Spioenkop is currently undergoing “ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the hull and structure.” Completion of this work is dependent on the SA Navy providing customer furnished spares (CFS) – maintenance will be completed within one month from the receipt of spares. Furthermore, work on the SAS Amatola will resume in March, and estimated to be completed in the three months after receipt of outstanding spares and subject to the completion of repairs on the SAS Spioenkop. 

The frigate, SAS Isandlwana, is currently undergoing ad-hoc maintenance and repairs of the mast and flight decks. Armscor stated that the masts will be completed within six months. “This is part of the continuous refurbishment activities to keep the sub-systems serviceable, as the vessel will be in a perpetual maintenance phase.”

For the submarine fleets, the SAS Mantatisi is currently undergoing Docking and Essential Defect (DED) maintenance, which is due to be completed in March subject to successful approvals of all post-maintenance trials. While the SAS Queen Modjadji is currently undergoing preservation and pre-refit planning activities, in preparation for a refit. The procurement process for services is currently underway, with a requirement received from the Navy on 6 February 2023. Armscor estimates the contracting process will take approximately 140 days.

The submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke is currently “in refit process” with Armscor providing project management. “Armscor Dockyard is currently going through a procurement process to contract a local supplier for support services. Bids are currently being evaluated and contracting will be completed within the next month.”

Budget cuts mean there is no funding for mid-life upgrades/refits of the SA Navy’s three submarines and four frigates. These vessels will have to wait until at least 2033/35 before sufficient funding becomes available for this.

Due to limited funding, only one of four frigates (SAS Amatola) was partially refitted in 2014/15 and one of three submarines (SAS Manthatisi) was refitted in 2013/14. Funding for refitment of the remaining three frigates – SAS Isandlwana, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi and for submarine SAS Queen Modjadji I – has not been available since this work became due, according to the Department of Defence (DoD).

Last two years, an 18 August 2021 progress report from the South African Department of Defence (DoD) presented at a Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) meeting explains that the South African Navy (SAN) does not have enough funds to refit most of its frigates and submarines to keep them in top fighting shape. Only R786 million was allocated for naval vessel refit for the 2021/22 financial year, out of the required R1/479 billion.

Also, the SAN reported diminishing sea hours to Parliament every year, with the Navy has failing to achieve its annual sea hour target of 10,000 hours per year.

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