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Pretoria - South Africa needs the submarines, frigates and other military equipment acquired in the 1999 arms deal to deter possible attacks, SA Navy Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz told the Seriti Commission on Monday.
“(8It is important to) provide sufficient credible deterrents that a would-be aggressor would look at us from a maritime perspective and say there is risk in attacking,” he told the commission sitting in Pretoria.
“I believe that the purchases were well-justified and necessary.
“I have no doubt that it was a good decision by government to give South Africa this capability.
“I recognise that there are challenges in terms of financial constraints and that the nature of these vessels, from time-to-time, that there will be defects, but we do have the capacity in-house and also the support of the manufacturers to repair them.
“Therefore, I am confident that they will continue to serve the country into the future.”
Schoultz told the commission, sitting in Pretoria, that these were “uncertain times” and that the country needed to be ready for any kind of attack.
“If there is a would-be aggressor out there, they will identify the area of weakness which will become the centre of gravity, so it was important to take a balanced approach and to provide a deterrent,” he said.
“You often do not see an attack until it is too late.”
He said defects in military and navy equipment occurred worldwide and were not unique to South Africa.
He said it was the duty of the SA Navy to defend and protect, and it was often more important to deter and prevent conflict.
The mere presence of military capability provided a deterrent.
“The military is about providing safety for us all at our borders. It is about us assisting government in its effort to bring peace to this continent of ours,” he said.
“The frigates and submarines have had defects, but both are reliable for the tasks at hand,” he told the commission.
The commission heard that the submarines and frigates the SA Navy acquired in the 1999 arms deal were needed and had been used.
“I believe that we have adequately utilised these assets. Every commitment that this country has made, we have met,” said Schoultz.
“It is safe to say that the submarines have been reliable and (have) served us well.... As far as the frigates are concerned..., in the normal course of operating there have been certain defects, but... we continue to discharge them.”
Schoultz said frigates were built with “redundancy” and that there were always risks at sea, but that the SA Navy was satisfied the security requirements had been met.
Schoultz took the commission through various reported “defects” in SA Navy equipment and said the battery life of a submarine was between seven and eight years.
There had been an issue with the batteries because of a build-up of gas.
“A repair solution was investigated and was brought about on the submarine batteries, and it was also brought to the attention of the manufacturer,” he said.
“The Navy has sourced its replacement battery, so whether there was a defect identified or not, we are at the eight-year period and we would be replacing batteries.” The frigates were doing good work and would continue doing so as long as they were in use.
“There have been defects both on the submarines and the ships,” he said.
“Our experience is that the submarines have been more reliable than the frigates.” Cancelling the contracts had immense complications, he said.
Earlier, the commission heard that the SA Navy and its frigates had played a vital role in security during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, with ships deployed in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth for the duration of the World Cup.
The navy was involved in events leading up to the World Cup as early as 2008.
The commission heard of various exercises conducted in Africa, including Namibia and Mozambique. Apart from securing the coastline ahead of the World cup the frigates also played a role in fighting piracy, Schoultz said.
He said a frigate was deployed to Table Bay in June this year when US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle visited Robben Island.
“As a precaution, we pulled a frigate into Table Bay harbour so that if he had to be extracted very quickly from Robben Island for whatever reason, there would be a platform available.
“This was purely a precautionary operation at the request of the presidential protection unit.”
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission, which is chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal.
The commission resumes on Tuesday.