Navy crippled by frigate purchase

By Karyn Maughan Time of article published Aug 29, 2008

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The government's exorbitant multibillion-rand arms deal has crippled the South African Navy.

And, according to one of the country's leading arms deals experts, the navy does not even have the money "to fully or properly operate or support" the costly frigates or submarines that has devastated its budget.

The Mercury revealed on Thursday that the navy wants to spend billions more of taxpayers' money on patrol ships, primarily because the hugely expensive corvettes they bought to monitor the country's seas are not ready or up for the job.

According to a June 2008 Defence Force Legal Services staff paper for Chief of the Navy Vice-Adm Johannes Mudimu, the state's controversial purchases - "which absorb most of the South African Navy's financial resources" - have left the navy incapable of:

- Tracking the vessels that travel around the South African coast;

- Conducting patrols aimed at protecting and defending "the maritime sovereignty of the republic";

- Fulfilling its "collateral responsibilities" of "maritime safety, pollution response, search-and-rescue, protection of maritime resources and interdiction of maritime offenders"; and

- Conducting patrols of South Africa's resource and fossil fuel-rich economic exclusion zone.

Trained advocate Captain DK Gillespie, whose mandated report the Defence Force has attempted to dismiss as an "academic study" created by a "student", further states: "With the transformation of the South African National Defence Force, severe budget cuts (and) downsizing, the SA Navy has become a shadow of its original force structure with a number of 'gaps' apparent in its capacity."

Richard Young, the overlooked arms deal bidder who was awarded a R15-million settlement from the government after he sued it for damages, yesterday said it was "fact" that the navy was unable to afford operating the frigates and submarines it had purchased.

Referring The Mercury to research that found one frigate cost €720 000 (about R8,2-million) a day to operate, he said the navy's mooted purchase of eight to 12 new 85m multipurpose hull patrol boats "would make economic sense".

"These vessels cost between R250-million and R300-million each, as opposed to the R4 billion cost of the frigates.

The reality is that, if the government had not forced the navy to buy the frigates and submarines, it would have been able to purchase the patrol boats. . . which get the work done."

Young said the South African Navy had elected to purchase the Spanish Bazan 590B light frigate and an Italian coastal submarine, but had been overridden by the government's desire to buy German MEKO 200AS light frigates and German Type 209 coastal submarines.

"At least regarding the frigates, the South African Navy would have saved about R1 billion in 1999 rands, which would have gone a long way in operational and support costs," he said.

Young, who had seen Gillespie's report, said it appeared that the work had started its life as a "joint staff course" document, but was "resurrected for a very specific reason".

"It seems it was resurrected and edited very recently to justify the purchase (of the patrol vessels)," he said.

The Mercury has established that, at the time defence department spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi claimed that Gillespie had written the report, in 2003, he was a senior staff officer of operational law support.

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