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Pretoria - A defence review approved by Parliament in 1998 recommended that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) get new equipment, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry heard on Tuesday.
Rear Admiral Alan Green, the first witness to testify in the commission's public hearings in Pretoria, said some of the SANDF's equipment needed to be replaced.
Since its establishment in 1994, the SANDF did not have large combat vessels and had to use “rather aged off-shore patrol vessels”.
“The absence of a clearly defined military threat does not mean that the SANDF had no requirement for rejuvenation. Threats usually appear unexpectedly and do not always allow for long leads of time to acquire combat systems which include the equipment and the competent operators,” he said.
The admiral was testifying about the rationale behind the multi-billion rand arms deal and the use of the items bought. Green said they were critical to South Africa's defence system.
“The benefits of having the equipment that we identified was that we would be able to execute the operations that we deemed fit. That would enable us to protect our people and their integrity.”
The equipment would also serve as a deterrent against South Africa's aggressors.
“If we have the deterrent material, something with which we can deter others, then that is the policy which assures that we ought to be safe.”
He said a defence posture was meant to be a deterrent.
“By having a vessel in the harbour, one is executing the deterrent factor.”
Through the strategic defence procurement package, commonly referred to as the arms deal, the defence department bought corvettes, submarines, Agusta A109 light utility helicopters, Hawk trainer aircraft, and Gripen light fighter aircraft, among others. There had been allegations that some of the equipment was not operable or was in long-time storage.
Green denied this, explaining that because a vessel was not at sea or a jet not in the air did not mean they were not being utilised. There was a “utilisation philosophy”.
“In the case of the SA Navy, a lot of utilisation takes place in the harbour because it's about training, it's about keeping the maintenance of the vessel up to date, and it's also about the development of doctrine that has to be tested in a controlled environment.”
Utilisation also depended on where government ordered the SANDF to deploy its forces.
Green finished testifying on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, Rear Admiral Robert Higgs was expected to begin his testimony.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 arms deal.