The navy in Simon's Town boasts four of the [most?] sophisticated corvette *1 warships in the world, bought for a cool R6 billion *2. South Africa's 28 Swedish Gripen JAS-39 fighter planes costing R12 billion are still on their way. Then there are the other fighter jets, helicopters, submarines …
The hardware is all part of the controversial arms programme announced five years ago *3, the biggest in the history of our defence force. At the time South Africa signed away R30 billion for arms but by the time the debt is paid off in 2020 interest and inflation will have pushed the total bill closer to R100 billion, experts say.
An order for eight to 14 Airbus A-400M cargo carriers with a combined price tag of up to R14 million (sic - billion) has also been approved.
The defence force is spending like there's no tomorrow. But people are posing the question : does South Africa really need all this weaponry?
What about poverty? The need for schools, houses, new roads, medical care? Wouldn't it have been better to invest the money in communities?
YOU investigated what the arms deal entails and what we could have bought instead with the money. We also asked the experts for their take on our expensive shopping spree.
Of course we need arms :
We have to be prepared even though we're not at war or under threat, insists military expert Helmoed Romer-Heitman of the authoritative publication Jane's Defence Weekly.
"Most wars erupt within seconds, without warning. Arms and expertise can't be obtained overnight. A balanced defence force is like insurance … and takes years to put into place.
"You don't know when or from which quarter to expect an attack. Your opponent is unknown and you have to be prepared with everything from tanks to canons (sic - cannons) and fighter planes to submarines."
Contrary to popular opinion, Helmoed reckons we've acquired too little weaponry - especially as the country will increasingly be involved in peace operations in Africa".
Arms are also handy in times of peace, he says. Submarines are used to target smugglers in our coastal waters, while corvettes can be used in maritime disasters. *4
Asked who'd want to attack South Africa, political expert Leopold Scholtz says : "No one - but given the unstable nature of international politics you never know what wider conflict South Africa may be dragged into.
"Remember also, two thirds of our gross national product is generated by international trade and 90 per cent of our products are transported by sea. Which means we must be prepared to defend ourselves against foreigners who want to disrupt the maritime artery."
An additional advantage of the arms contract is the assurance of reciprocal trade the suppliers of the weaponry have given us as part of the deal.
They have promised to invest R110 billion in the country's economy within seven years, creating 65 000 jobs.
Arms are a waste of money :
Our biggest threat is not war but poverty and unemployment, says Terry Crawford-Browne, chairman of the SA branch of Economist Allied for Arms Reduction.
"Who's going to invade us? Not forces from Africa. And if it's a superpower such as America we don't stand a chance, even with all the new arms," he says. And look what good America's military might did during the 9/11 attack …
"A country's security depends much more on the health of its economy and people than on its military might," he says. Take Costa Rica, for instance, where the defence force tried to stage a coup but failed. In 1949 the country disbanded its defence force and since then Costa Rica has been a prosperous democracy for more than 50 years.
Its police force protects its borders and money that would have been earmarked for the military now pays for hospitals and education.
"Research shows world poverty can be eradicated in just 10 years with just a quarter of the money spent on defence," Terry says.
"We don't need arms to defend our fishing resources either," he adds.
Over the past six years hardly any of the promised reciprocal investments have materialised.
The German submarine suppliers started a steel project in the Eastern Cape which was supposed to have created 16 000 jobs. It was cancelled after three months.
Then a condom factory was built. It closed down after two weeks.
Meanwhile the Swedish suppliers of our aircraft were last week accused of failing to stick to the promises they'd made to South Africa. They promised investments to the tune of R67 billion. Twenty-one of the 26 promised projects have come to naught."
What we bought - and could have bought instead :
4 Corvettes (R6 billion *2)
These highly sophisticated vessels (delivered and fitted with weapons systems in Simon's Town) plays a reconnaissance and interception role. Helmoed reckons we need at least six. Because of its economic power South Africa will increasingly have to become involved in operations elsewhere in Africa, including peace operations, he says. We have not only to protect our own waters but also to fulfil our international obligations.
With R6 billion builders could replace 250 000 shacks (a quarter of the estimated one million informal homes countrywide) with RDP houses. According to the department of housing this would provide jobs for about 90 000 people in the building industry and 86 000 people in the building supplies industry.
3 German Submarines (R4,5 billion *5)
These modern conventional submarines replace the navy's Daphnes which were decommissioned at the end of 2003. The T209s are not in the same league as those of Britain, France or America but Helmoed believes they're a good buy and have a longer reach than the Daphnes. They were designed specifically for coastal patrols, protecting naval bases and anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare.
With R4,5 billion we could provide free education to all the kids of South Africa, which is what happens in countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Inadequate training is one of the cardinal contributing factors to our unemployment figure of 42 per cent.
28 Swedish Gripen Fighter Planes (About R15 billion *4) (These are expected to be delivered in 2008. *6)
Gripens can be used in peace operations mainly for reconnaissance *7 and as a deterrent. During SA's peacekeeping operations in Burundi, for example, where our troops were involved in skirmishes with rebel forces a few support Gripens could have been deployed from the Makhado (formerly Louis Trichard) air force base. The planes could have been necessary to use any other arms to deter the enemy.
The Gripens were ordered the same year Cheetah jet fighters became operational. The 50 Cheetahs' life expectancy was until 2012 but could be stretched to 2022 *9. According to an original report from the auditor-general a special government task team recommended the purchase of the 28 new Gripens be delayed because we had the Cheetahs and the air force had only nine pilots who could fly Gripens. The purchase was contrary to the advice of air force officials who said the Gripens would be superfluous, their price tag was too high, they hadn't been tested and were totally unsuitable to our conditions. At the time the late Joe Modise, then minister of defence, said they should leave the decision regarding the purchase to the politicians.
R15 billion could buy enough antiretrovirals for 30 years for all 400 000 HIV-positive South Africans. Every day about 1 300 people die of Aids and it's predicted by 2010 we would have lost close to six million people to the virus. Currently only 65 000 infected people have access to antiretrovirals and the government supplies only 20 000 of them with the medication because there isn't enough money for a comprehensive service.
24 Hawk Training Planes (R2,5 billion *10)
The official delivery date for these is mid-2005 to mid-2006. This aircraft will be used for training prospective Gripen pilots. It can even be used as an attack aircraft in situations where resistance is not too heavy.
The money could have been used to employ another 2500 policemen and policewomen over the next 10 years.
30 Augusta Helicopters (R2,5 billion)
The Augusta helicopter *11 is equipped with modern technology to fly in moonless and poor weather conditions. The air force can use it for emergency and rescue operations. These helicopters replace the light Alouette III helicopters.
With R2,5 billion we could provide healthcare to the poor in remote areas. We would be able to pay 1 700 doctors to work in rural clinics for 10 years.
4 Augusta Westland Super Lynx 300 Helicopters (R1,1 million (sic - billion))
These helicopters are for use on the four corvettes. They're the "eyes" without which the corvettes are useless *13. They replace the existing Oryx helicopters which are unsuitable for use on a moving ship.
Ammunition and teargas plants at Swartklip between Mitchell's Plain and Khayelitsha in Cape Town poison the air and have serious health implications for residents of the area, says Terry Crawford-Browne. Many Swartklip workers have lost hands, legs, their sight and/or hearing and have suffered brain damage. Others develop cardiac disease, arthritis and cancer. They are boarded, paid R1 000 compensation and then told to pay their own medical expenses. This pollution problem with its tragic consequences could be alleviated with R1,1 million.
8 to 14 Airbus A-400M Cargo Planes (R8-R14 billion)
The Airbus A-400M cargo planes replace the air force's nine Hercules C130 planes. They'll enable the air force to transport staff, resources and equipment as part of peace operations. Over the past three years South Africa has had to spend more than R100 million on outsourcing *14 these functions to private contractors.
With R8 billion to R14 billion the government could rehouse the country's estimated one million street kids in, for instance, self-catering communes where their physical, emotional and educational needs could be met for six months to a year. They could be absorbed into school so they'd eventually become productive members of society, says Linzee Thomas of Cape Town who works with street kids full time.
With acknowledgements to Carol Coetzee and the YOU magazine.*1 Actually, frigate.
*2 Actually, R6,873 billion in 1998 Rands - just R872 million higher than the budget authorised by cabinet in September 1999 and announced on 1998-11-18.
*3 Actually, 1998-11-18.
*4 They can - theoretically, but at the most ridiculous cost-benefit ratio ever devised in the history of mankind.
It's cheaper to acquire specialised fisheries and coast guard patrol craft, such as the four brand-new fisheries patrol craft just acquired by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
*5 Actually, R5,531 billion in 1998 Rands
*6 Actually, R15,916 billion in 1998 Rands - both the Gripen and Hawk - about R11 billion for the Gripen and R5 billion for the Hawk.
*7 They can - theoretically, but at the second-most ridiculous cost-benefit ratio ever devised in the history of mankind.
*8 The first in 2008, the last in 2015.
*9 At least until 2017.
*10 Actually, about R5 billion in 1998 Rands.
*11 The Agusta helicopter is a light utility helicopter - unarmoured and very lightly armed (capable of carrying a brigadier a colonel, a lieutenant-colonel and their bellies), also great for quickly getting peacekeeping SANDF colonels to the local Congolese whorehouse *12 when a special is running.
It's a pity for traceability and transparency that the 1997 Force Design resulting from the 1995-1997 Defence Review identified a requirement for medium lift helicopters (armoured and armed and capable of carrying a stick [10 -12] of troops with their full gear).
*12 See : "5 SAI doesn't want sex scandal colonel back"
The Natal Witness
16 March 2005
One of the allegedly incriminating photographs of colonel Victor White in a DRC nightclub
See "A crashing good cup of coffee"
The Natal Witness
18 March 2005
*13 Indeed, but more importantly the then cost of some R900 million was included in the Cabinet first approved R29 billion Arms Deal budget, but were dropped to account for the sudden and mysterious R872 million increase in the cost of the corvette, of which R699 million can be directly attributed to the selection of Schabir Shaikh, Chippy Shaikh and partners' combat suite.
*14 Sounds like a deal. At R33,3 million per year, this goes into R14 billion 420 times, i.e. for 420 years, and that's not even including the running costs which are sure to be at least R140 million per year (at just 1% of acquisition cost), maybe more, maybe alot more.
My Opinion (for what it's worth)
a. Light utility helicopters are always required by and are useful to a defence force, but there should be a formally identified need.
b. A squadron of light frigates (4 to 6) was required and was formally identified as such by the SA Navy, but we should have acquired 4 Spanish frigates at R3,3 billion with the specified combat suite at R1,9 billion (all 1998 Rands) (R5,2 billion in total).
c. A frigate without a maritime helicopter is like a blind person in rush-hour traffic with a guide dog.
d. The SAAF needed to replace the Impala jet trainers at some time, but still needed to finalise their training regime, but in any case should have acquired the Impala's younger brother the Italian MB339 and half the price of the ageing Hawk.
e. The biggest scandal is the acquisition of the Gripen as the SAAF's replacement of the Cheetah Cs and Es as light fighter aircraft. The SAAF had just taken the 38 Cheetah Cs into service in 1997 and there was no need to even consider theire replacement until 2007 at the earliest.
f. Coastal submarines make a small navy potentially militarily potent, but not if one cannot afford to man them, maintain them and put two out of three of them to patrol duties at any one time. If one cannot do this, then they actually cripple a navy and not enhances its effectiveness.
It would have been a pity to lose the country's subsurface capability - but was there not another way apart from making Joe Modise and the Sons of the Earth very wealthy in their lifetimes?
g. The SAAF's 12 C-130 Hercules have just been upgraded at a cost of many billions by Marshalls Aerospace, Thales (yes, them again) and Denel Aviation (yes, them again). It just cannot be that we need to throw them out and buy a clutch of EADS (remember them of Wa Benzi infamy) A400s.
Watch this space - if we do discard the C-130s, just see who'll be waiting to buy them from Armscor a bargain price.
Just like with the C-160 Transalls, where there were Ron Haywood, Joe Modise and their own financiers thrusting their snouts into the trough.