The Decline Of South African Military Post 1994

In 1994 the African National Congress was elected to form a government in South Africa with the combination of a government for a whole new approach & different priorities on government funding. In addition to the end of the border war, this has led to a steady decline of all branches of the South African armed forces. Many analysts have referred to the armed forces being in a critical state. Given the nation spends less than 1% of GDP on defense. In this article, I will break it down by each branch. Starting with the Air Force. The decline of the SADF is quite hard to believe from a country which has such a wide range of defense exports & a very successful arms industry.

The Air Force (SAAF)

The SAAF has been considered by many to be by far the most effective air force in sub-sahara Africa. This is despite the drastic budget cuts the air force has seen since the border war as the large quantity of aircraft it had during the war was quite simply not required as the likelihood of a similar conflict is extremely unlikely. The greatest consequences of budget cuts have been a loss of combat experience. Many of those who had combat experience from the border war have found themselves to be surplus to requirement within the air force. This has left pilots without the ability to learn from those who have seen a variety of combat experience. The SAAF has struggled to procure new aircraft in recent times. In 2009 South Africa canceled its participation in the A400M program, this has left the air force without a heavy lift capability.

The air force has bought modern fighters with the JAS 39 Gripen, although only 17 are available & many have referred to this aircraft as the poor mans euro-fighter. Even with a modern & relatively capable fighter, the air force has since decommissioned its aerial refueling planes. Weakening the effectiveness of their fighters. The lack of Gripens only 17 of them, leave the air force without the ability to maintain aerial security over its territory while deploying outside of the nation. This has resulted in Hawk trainers being fitted out with an attack role while sending 1-2 Gripens to be use a target designation platform. To highlight the issues with the cancelation of the A400M program is that during the Mozambique cyclone the government had to charter an Antonov cargo plane as either all the C130s are busy or aren’t able to be flown. The air force also sent 2 Oryxes to help out, these are the air forces largest helicopter only two could be sent as only 11 of the 35 are airworthy. In recent times the air forces doubted its ability to afford enough fuel for its helicopters in disaster relief operations.

The Navy

While the South African Navy is small, it does have some fairly modern & capable elements, the Navy hasn’t been of any particular importance in defense spending though it has seen its budget slashed along with the other branches. The navy currently operates 3 Heroine class diesel attack submarines, 4 Valour-class frigates which are by far the best surface ships in the navy & possibly the most capable frigate Sub-Saharan Africa. 3 Warrior class OPVs, 4 River-class minehunters, 3 T class inshore patrol ships, 21 Namacurra class harbor patrol ships. 1 extremely outdated Replenishment vessel. 1 survey ship & 5 tugboats

SAS Amatola

SAS Amatola

When looking at the current state of the South African navy it is important to consider the role that it is required to fulfill. The role is currently counter-piracy operations around Somalia, protection of the country territorial waters & combating narcotic smugglers. Far away deployments for extended periods of time aren’t something that really needs to be considered as it is not of the nation's interests. However, if the country can continue to grow economically & sort some of its domestic issues out the nation could see its navy required to operate globally. The Navy still has some pressing issues that need to be dealt with. In terms of deploying their assets, many analysts South Africa have argued that the navy could only realistically deploy one frigate & the replenishment ship at any given time without depleting the operational budget. The South African navy doesn’t suffer too much from an equipment issue although more vessels would be welcome. The issues in the navy are nearly all a lack of budget for operations. It begs the question of why have all of these hulls if deploying them is often ruled out due to it being too expensive

The Army

The role of the South African army post-1994 with the end of the border war & the election of the ANC. The role has changed from less of the need to conduct an offensive land war to more of a peacekeeping role & counterinsurgency. The army hasn’t suffered a bad as other divisions it maintains a fairly good amount of soldiers while still operating enough equipment. The army has suffered from the removal of those with combat experience after 1994. In a similar way to the navy, it comes down to a use of the funds rather than the amount of the money the army receives. The funding for the armed forces hasn’t been spent in the most sensible matter. Estimates put it as 80% of the budget is spent on salaries, only 15% made available for operational matters. This improper division of funds has left the army with very capable equipment but not the funds to ensure they are maintained correctly.

Why The Decline In Funding

The decline of the armed forces has been going on for a long time despite deals to equip the military with new equipment. Nearly every deal has been in one way linked to bribery & corruption like most aspects of South African government & politics corruption plays an enormous part in nearly everything that goes wrong. There are far more pressing issues to South Africans than defense funding. With a nation that has an economy that is slowing down a country where schools & hospitals are begging for additional funds, crime & particularly murder rates at a high rate, it’s hard to see how an increase in defense spending would be welcomed by the public. It feels now though with corruption being slowly forced out of government funds will start to be spent on the correct areas in South Africa which may open the door for some sensible defense spending. However, before the government goes buying shiny new toys for the army reforming the armed forces is needed first.