Monday, June 07, 2021

South African Army ill equipped to deal with regional crisis...



Any serious army will always have some uncommitted units to deal with emergencies and also longer-lasting contingencies. That could be the parachute and air-assault battalions for the former, and perhaps two infantry battalions as a minimum for the latter. That takes us to 19 infantry battalions. But the army has only 14.

In addition, it should maintain a mechanised brigade to ensure retention of those skills, because in an era of power competition a threat can arise much more quickly than such capabilities can be regenerated. While two infantry battalions of this brigade could be the two also serving as operational reserve in peacetime, this adds armour, artillery, air defence, field engineer, signals, maintenance and workshop units.

The border patrol capability, the rapid deployment force and the mechanised brigade add up to at least 26,000 troops. But what if the army must deploy to, for instance, Mozambique for an extended period? The reserve cannot be committed except as initial force, so the force requirement rises by another four infantry battalions and support elements, or at least 4,000 troops, taking the minimum safe deployable strength of the army to about 30,000.

Here it is worth remembering that during the 2000s there were three simultaneous long-term battalion missions (Burundi, DRC and Darfur) and briefly a fourth (Comoros), which dangerously overstretched the army.

Few armies have much better than 50% deployable personnel, the rest being in headquarters, training units, depots and workshops. That would argue for an army of 60,000. Even assuming the army can be particularly efficient and have a deployable strength of two thirds, that would still require an army of 45,000, compared to the actual current strength of 37,600.

There are about 12,250 reservists, but they are only readily available because the economy is so weak and unemployment so high, and are not suited to all roles, particularly those that demand exceptional fitness and currency on complex equipment. They should serve as emergency reserve, not to plug holes in the regular force.

The bottom line is that the SA army is understrength, overage and handicapped by obsolescent equipment and capability gaps. Not ideal in an unstable region in an era of power competition.


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