Air force, navy 'just for show'

2010-03-04 08:53

Cape Town - The expensive Gripen fighter jets, frigates and submarines which cost South African taxpayers billions of rands will mainly be on the ground and in port over the next three years, because there's no money to operate them.

The DA has called this a disgrace, while the department of defence's excuse is that its budget is hopelessly inadequate.

According to the department's strategic plan for the next three years, which was submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, their budgeting allows for the following:
- That the Gripens will spend 550 hours in flight in the current financial year, after which this will be scaled down to 250 flight hours per year for the next two years; and
- That the navy's 18 ships will have 10 000 hours at sea in 2011-2012 and 9 000 hours at sea per year in 2012 and 2013.

Operational capabilities

DA MP David Maynier said at a meeting between the parliamentary portfolio committee for defence and the department that it's clear "the defence force is being stripped of its operational capabilities".

"Look at maritime defence: Taking into account what we have at our disposal and the hours at sea which have been budgeted for, the navy's ships will spend 23 days at sea and 328 days in port. Perhaps eight ships - including the frigates at the submarines - would be more realistic: That would mean they'd spend 55 days at sea and 299 in port.

"Concerning the air force: We have 11 Gripens and 550 flight hours available this year, which means they are flying less than half of the hours required to comply with Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) standards. Most of these hours will be used during the 2010 World Cup, and between July and the end of the financial year, these fighter jets will be standing in their hangars," he said.

"It gets worse in the following years: Once all 26 Gripens have been delivered, they'll spend an average of 9.6 hours in flight per year."

Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a defence expert, described this budget as ludicrous and said if this is the way the navy and air force are run, the defence force might as well shut its doors.

According to him, Nato requires that fighter pilots log 20 flight hours per month (240 flight hours per year per fighter pilot, compared to the air force's budget of 550 flight hours) to remain operationally functional.

Bought for show

"According to these standards our air force is only barely going to be able to keep two fighter pilots in business.

"As far as our navy is concerned, it is now clear that the frigates and submarines were only bought for show."

Thabang Makwetla, deputy minister of defence, said it isn't the department's fault and that the problem lies with the inadequate defence budget.

According to Professor Renfrew Christie from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa is currently spending about 1.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, compared to 4.5% in 1989.

The World Bank recommends that a functional defence force should be allocated no less than 2% of the GDP.

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