South African Air Force & Navy budget and capacity constraints

Defence

12 September 2019
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (NA); Mr M Nchabeleng (NCOP)
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Meeting Summary

The focus of this meeting was the continued reduction of the budget of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which compromises its ability to carry out its constitutional mandate. The South African Air Force and Navy components of the SANDF reported on flying and sea hours and the capacity to effectively utilise their assets.

Members acknowledged the difficulties faced due to substantial cut-backs and highlighted that investments into the SANDF serve both the security of the sovereignty of the country and investment into local defence manufacturing industry beneficial for economic growth and job creation. Members emphasised that investments have to be made urgently as it will cost more to regain lost capability.
 

Meeting report

Mr V Xaba (ANC), NA Co-Chairperson, and the SA Air Force representatives voiced serious concerns about the presence of the media during the meeting as the information discussed was classified confidential. They made it clear that it was inappropriate for the public to have access to confidential information until it is clearly decided that the time is right. They did not want any enemies to know details about the level of preparation of the country and how the SA Defence Force is preparing itself. Therefore, the Chairperson asked visitors to leave the meeting as the presence of the media would make it difficult for some questions to be answered. Members of the Air Force and the Navy would feel uncomfortable when discussing matters. The Chairperson requested a five-minute break during which the Members of Parliament could discuss to what extent the meeting should be closed.

Ms M Modise (ANC) agreed that this was a confidential meeting. It might be appropriate to share this information at a later stage. However, for now she asked the media to leave.

Mr S Marais (DA) argued that the South African Parliament is a People’s Parliament and there is allowance for closed meetings, but closed meetings are exceptional. On this day, the focus of the Joint Standing Committee was a budgeting question and, in those circumstances, the presence of the media was actually helpful. Ultimately, as politicians, the members of the Committee approve budgets, but they approve budgets according to the mandate given to them by the people, by the voters. It is necessary for voters to become aware of budgeting constraints that are affecting the operation of the military. Then, they are able to instruct the politicians to increase this budget. He emphasised that the Chairperson was not in the position to exclude the media from any discussion as closed meetings have a special status.

The media refused to leave as they stated that a formal procedure should have been followed to ensure that this meeting was closed.

Chairperson Xaba sent all visitors out of the meeting. The meeting was adjourned again.

The meeting was then continued and the presence of the media and other visitors was allowed.

South African Air Force (SSAF) Report on Flying hours and Capacity Constraints
Chief of the SA Air Force, Lt Gen Zakes Msimang said that “Number of Flying hours per Year” is a Level 1 Performance Indicator. The cumulative number of hours flown is a measure of effort and achievement by the Air Defence Programme. The focus of the briefing was the Hours Planned and the Hours Flown in past years and the current budget allocation. However, it was emphasised that the current budget allocation is not appropriate to ensure that the SA Air Force is building for the future. During difficult economic conditions, every cent counts and therefore it is necessary to reach out to the media so that they can educate taxpayers about the negative impact of a reduced budget on the security and the Air Force.


The presentation topics covered the SSAF Story, the SAAF Budget Cuts, Air Capability, Flying Hours, OEMs of SAAF Aircraft and Capability Constraints. The Chief of the SA Air Force concluded that the required air defence capabilities for the defence and protection of the country are in a state of perpetual decline due to funding and industry performance. Unless urgent intervention is initiated at the national strategic level, the country will have no Air Force but an Air Wing in the near future.

South African Navy Report on Sea Hours and Capacity Constraints

Chief of the South African Navy Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane said that “Number of Hours at Sea per Year” is a Level 1 Performance Indicator in the Department of Defence Annual Performance Plan. The number of hours spent at sea for Force Preparation and Force Employment is a measure of achievement by the Maritime Defence Programme. The achievement of planned targets for the Number of Hours at Sea per Year is dependent on the SA Navy budget allocation. Various capacity constraints, primarily resulting from the insufficient budget allocation, continue to hamper the achievement of the planned Sea Hours target due to their impact on the availability of Naval Assets and Capabilities for development. The SA Navy laid out the targeted number of hours at sea per year and the hours achieved since 2013. The reasons for the deviation were discussed with special focus on the full costs versus the actual budget allocation. Due to budget cuts, the SA Navy is facing prominent capacity constraints, which are also strategic challenges. These include refits, ship spares, Armscor Dockyard, human resource challenges and facilities. The presentation dealt with the current surface and sub-surface warfare capability, patrol capability, combat support, hydrographic capabilities and the effect on maritime combat capability if the funding status quo remains. The Vice Admiral concluded, however, that the Navy remains committed to fight at sea, to win at sea and to be unchallenged at sea despite the challenges they are facing.

Discussion
Mr Marais referred to the budget allocation on slide 6 of the SA Air Force report. It explained that a 30-30-40 allocation would be optimal. However, he was unsure which one of “Capital”, “HR” and “Operating” should receive 40% of the budget. He asked if the Air Force has simulators for training purposes which can be used as set-offs for lack of actual flying time. It is important to acknowledge that the Air Force and Navy are more budget-driven than mandate-driven so when setting targets, it is preferable to be realistic as both organisations are largely budget-driven.

Mr Marais asked for clarification of the scenario on slide 7 of the Air Force presentation and slide 10 on the SA Navy presentation. As stated, the full costs are approximately R8 billion for the Air Force and between R7 and R7.5 billion for the Navy. He asked how large the backlog is that has to be dealt with.

Mr J Maake (ANC) stated that the presentations were open and honest. The Defence Force is cannibalising what it has left at the moment. Therefore, asking questions is a waste of time as the presentations show that South Africa will not have a Navy or an Air Force if the budget allocation does not change. Thus, the SA Navy and the SA Air Force should not expect questions from the Committee, they should question the Committee. The representatives of the Defence Force should be given the opportunity to explain what they expect from the Members of Parliament. Mr Maake emphasised that the Committee members have to ask themselves what they are going to do to save the Navy and the Air Force. Otherwise South Africa will not be able to defend itself in the future.

Mr Xaba agreed and stated that South Africa is facing a ticking time bomb.

Mr Marais agreed as well. However, he this does not help the Committee when considering how to move forward. He referred to slide 10 of the SA Air Force Report on Air Capability Flying Hours Targets and Achieved Flying Hours over the years. There was a substantial increase from 2017/18 to 2018/19. He asked the Air Force to clarify this drastic increase from 5 000 to 25 000 targeted hours and 4125.50 to 17 870.2 achieved hours. He was unsure if this related to an actual increase in flying hours or to a reporting mechanism change. Additionally, he noticed a substantial decrease in Force Preparation and asked for a deeper understanding of this cut as paratroopers, special forces, and many others are impacted by this decrease. The presentation had sometimes only been given the number of flying hours, but not the spending figures. He got the impression that in the Air Force, inflation is normally not provided for. Thus, he asked if the Air Force is able to fly fewer hours with the same amount of money due to inflation.

Mr Marais referred to the OEMs of the different platforms. He asked for the contingency plan going forward. He is aware that the Defence Force has 26 Gripens. It seems as if the Defence Force has an oversupply of platforms in certain areas, but an undersupply in other areas like the C130. He believes that there are six, but only one or two are operational. However, all six should probably be distributed. He asked for clarification. Additionally, he has been told that charters are used for either troops, cargo, VIP and he asked whether this is calculated into the hours flown. On contingency plans going forward, knowing the state of the SANDF, he asked the Navy and Air Force representatives what their suggestions were as the country cannot wait until the Defence Force does not have the possibility to go into the air or on sea.

Mr I Cebekhuku (IFP) stated that the country needs a proper budget for better operational capacities. This becomes especially apparent when looking at incidents where the country has been exposed to vessels found in SA waters where are illegally taking away the resources of this country from local fishermen.

Ms Modise emphasised that Parliament and the Defence Force need to act now to ensure that the country is safe. If South Africa is a nation that has aspirations to lead this continent, action has to be taken now.

Mr Xaba concluded that if South Africa loses its capabilities now, it will take a long time to replace them and it will be very expensive. South Africa is a country which has honoured a number of obligations to the United Nations and the African Union. The institutions rely on the country. The UN and AU would be disappointed if South Africa loses its capabilities. South Africa is the hope of the continent.

Responses
Lt Gen Msimang replied that it is difficult to satisfy the questions due to lack of time. The problems that have been mentioned have developed over the past years and the Minister of Defence has always communicated them to the relevant parties. Thus, it is difficult to come up with proposals or suggestions right now. He said that the Chairperson had said it all as it is important to prevent losing all one's capabilities now. Any amount of talking today would not have helped the Joint Committee to find a solution. However, he echoed the words of the SADF Chief of the Defence Force and emphasised that “Action is now”. He asked the Joint Standing Committee to give the Defence Force a sufficient budget to defend the country. If this country wants a Defence Force, it needs to give them the necessary tools. At the moment they are surviving on the patriotism of the men and women in uniform.

He explained that it hurts to look into the eyes of people who are prepared to lose their lives; especially because he has to try to convince himself that he gave them the best opportunity to survive, knowing that this is not true. The Defence Force does everything possible to survive and to fulfil its mandate.

Lt Gen Msimang concluded that they shall die in their boots making sure that they are defending this country, even with the few weapons that they have. He addressed the Members of the Committee and asked “We gave an oath, what is yours?”

Vice Admiral Hlongwane agreed with Lt Gen Msimang. He asked the Joint Standing Committee on Defence to think about what should be done, although it was clear that a two hour meeting was not enough to find a solution for this complex issue.

Chairperson Xaba highlighted that this would not be the last time this topic was discussed with Navy and Air Force representatives.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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