South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 11 November 2016 was Major Helmoed-Römer Heitman, the distinguished South African military historian and commentator, whose topic was "A Brief Look at Developments in the World Military Situation in 2016". Major Heitman opened his talk by quoting Plato who wrote "only the dead have seen peace" - very true words when one looks at the world in the second decade of the 21st century.

He pointed out that the end of World War 2 had not seen peace but had seen continued conflict in all parts of the globe. The end of the Cold War has also not led to a permanent peace. Rather it has opened the door to renewed regional conflict and increased competition between the major powers. A new and disturbing development has been conflict within and between smaller countries and the rise of irregular forces which are well-led, armed and trained and which often have ties to criminal forces on a global scale. There is truly global terrorism and criminal activity expanding in all parts of the international, regional and local scenes. Combating this is equally an international task but this requires co-operation between major powers and their smaller allies - an extremely difficult task which requires political will and readiness to co-operate with one another.

In Africa, the situation has not changed much from the previous year. If anything, the situation has got worse. The major powers - United States, China, India, Russia, Japan and South Korea and some smaller ones who have aspirations to great power status all have an interest in Africa and its resources. We can exclude Europe which is too fragmented with its politicians unable to cooperate on anything. All of these act in their own self-interest and their competition will impact directly and indirectly on smaller and weaker countries. Not only Africa but also South West Asia and South East Asia are affected in the same way.

Looking specifically at Africa, in the DRC the local population seems to prefer the various rebel groups to the government. This is possibly due to the variety of tribal groups which make up the population, but the real reason why Africa is in a mess is the inefficiency and corruptness of governments combined with interference by the major powers. In much of West, North and Central Africa there has been an increase in insurgence, rebellion, civil war and revolution against governments by organisations such as Boko Harem, Al Qaeda, Isis and organisations allied to these or by tribal groupings. Some of these armed groups have developed armed forces which are well-armed with modern weapons and are efficient, well-trained and well-led. Africa north of the Equator is a nightmare of political instability, insurgency, civil war, terrorism and failed states. Criminal gangs involved on a large scale in narcotics, illegal mining and lumber are large enough to have efficient armed forces of their own and do not hesitate to involve themselves in the countries in this area, often with the rebel and/or religious groups also involved there. Nor do the major powers hesitate to interfere when the situation is favourable to them.

Russia is flexing its muscles after a number of years of interference in the countries of the old Soviet Union by outsiders, largely by the United States. This has resulted in the incorporation of the Crimea into the Russian Federation and assistance being given to rebels (largely Russian in origin) in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is not a very stable one, and various organisations are trying to stir up internal trouble between the large Russian minority and the ethnic Ukrainians. This has resulted in a major re-organisation of the Russian armed forces and a large-scale upgrade to their equipment as well as a major improvement in their level of training. Russia is said (by the USA) to have designs on the Baltic States and Moldova and Georgia could also become trouble spots. The Russians have now involved themselves in the conflict in Syria on the side of President Assad.

The Syrian conflict is most complicated - Russia supports the Assad government, the United States is supporting anti-Assad forces which seem to include Al Qaeda and Isis, the Kurds are fighting Assad's forces but this has brought in Iraq, Iran and Turkey, all of whom have over many years been waging a war with Kurdish separatists. Turkey has just put down an attempted coup against the Erdogan regime and there is ongoing violence. Saudi Arabia with other Arab states have now involved themselves as well. There are also conflicts in progress in Yemen, Iraq (internally) and Afghanistan with the involvement of Pakistan as well. Our speaker was asked if he could make sense of this conflict. His answer was "No". This is an area rich in gas and oil, as well as other minerals and there is a considerable network of pipelines in the area. Control over these would be most desirable to any of the major powers involved in the area.

The insurgency in Iraq and the Arab Spring in Syria, combined with wider Islamist extremism has resulted in civil war in Syria and parts of Iraq and the emergence of the Islamic State. This has been joined by radical groups in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, with support from many other - even non-Muslim - countries. While ISIS has lost much of the territory gained in Iraq and Syria, they have well-trained forces which are well-led and armed, largely with captured equipment, and have taken up an insurgency war in North Africa. What the result of all this will be is anybody's guess. The whole area is now a war zone.

With South West Asia in turmoil, a further possible source of conflict has appeared in South East Asia. China has laid claim to the Spratly Islands, in the middle of the South China Sea. This is an area where sovereignty has been claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. Why? The reason is the very likely presence of large reserves of gas and oil in this area.

Further areas of possible conflict in the Far East include a not very democratic Burma, where China is arming rebels; Korea, where North Korea has sunk a South Korean corvette, and between Japan and Taiwan over fishing rights. The most serious problem area in Asia is the border between India and China, where a war was fought between the two in 1962 in the Karakoram Pass area in Jammu-Kashmir and a border dispute still simmers. India has its own internal problems with separatists in Eastern India. There is also a dispute between India and Pakistan over control of Kashmir, which from time to time flares up.

There are problem areas in South and Central America as well. Mexico is engaged in a vicious war against the drug cartels. This is complicated by the very large-scale bribery of police and government officials in that country. The cartels are quite ready to use serious violence against anyone opposing them. Venezuela has been so misgoverned that, although rich in oil and other minerals, it has become a failed state and will need a revolution to recover the economic status it deserves. Its internal situation makes this likely in the not too distant future. Colombia, another country rich in minerals, has been involved in fighting an insurgency financed by the drug cartels for many years. The cartels bribe officials at any level and murder those who are not open to bribery. There appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel - the rebel groups have been losing ground to the government forces and seem to want peace. Negotiations are in progress.

This is a short summary of the world's trouble spots. The greatest concentration of current conflicts and instability is in Northern and Eastern Africa, the Middle East and South West Asia. In Africa conflict and instability will be aggravated by major power competition. The rise of international criminal activity round the globe adds fuel to the fires already burning. There are trends in modern conflict common to all of the conflicts listed above. These are:

Many armed forces are using high tech equipment which is very expensive to purchase and operate. Some examples of such equipment are F22 fighters, costing 300 million dollars each to buy and a fortune to maintain, and F35 fighters, currently costing some 110 million dollars to buy and containing 8 million lines of computer programming. This aircraft is now in production but the bugs in the design have not yet all been sorted out, some of which could be life-threatening. To sort all of these out will be very expensive as the numbers produced, and which require updating, increase. Weapons carried by these aircraft are equally expensive, costing in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars each. So-called precision weapons are included in this category, but the accuracy of these is a "military secret" (i.e. still doubtful - Ed.). Electronic warfare, using satellites and unmanned aircraft and similar equipment, is vastly expensive and not always very accurate. A drone operator sitting in an armchair 10 000 miles away and looking at a satellite picture cannot assess the situation as well as someone on the ground near the action. This has resulted in numerous attacks on civilians, resulting in so-called "collateral damage".

Warfare is moving into cities and towns. Some examples are Sarajevo, Fallujah, Grozny, Mogadishu, Tripoli and Damascus. This type of warfare leaves massive damage to infrastructure and property and, if the civilian population is not evacuated, huge loss of life. Civilians are at enormous risk in this type of warfare. But who is a civilian when both sides hide among the non-combatants while they are fighting?

This type of warfare often involves "peacekeeping" which can involve heavy fighting, e.g. Libya, Mogadishu, Northern Nigeria and the DRC, and consequent heavy damage in built-up areas. The armaments used by irregular forces are also changing. At first, irregulars used RPG-7's and AK-47's, with the so-called "technicals" (a bakkie (LDV) carrying a 12,7mm or 14,5mm machine gun) as heavy support. The 'technical' is now carrying twin and quadruple machine guns or twin 23mm or 37mm anti-aircraft guns. Further weapons used include BM21 multiple rocket launchers, 122mm field guns, BTR60 armoured personnel carriers and various types of tank, from T34 to T62 and upwards. ISIS and Hamas are using drones for reconnaissance, armed UAVs and surface to air missiles for defence against aircraft.

The Sri Lankan Tigers, eventually defeated by the Sri Lankan Government after a long and bloody war, used fast gunboats, assault craft, human torpedoes, suicide boats and even light aircraft and micro-lights. In the Middle East, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles are commonly used. Both government and private arms dealers are always available to supply combatant's needs - at a price, of course.

In 2004, an Israeli corvette was hit by a Chinese C802 surface to surface missile and seriously damaged. ISIS are using computers for command and control and they are using modern communication systems, often more modern than those used by the countries they are trying to defeat. All of this means that any country fighting irregulars needs to update its armaments to counter these developments to win their war - this increases the cost of defence substantially. Both governments and insurgents are conducting cyber warfare.

Terrorism is becoming globalised and part of irregular warfare. It no longer is confined to small-scale laying of bombs. It now forms part of the world-wide irregular war system. Bombs used are increasing in power and attacks against civilian targets have become common. Examples include Nairobi (1998 and 2013), New York (2001 twin towers), Madrid (2004), Mumbai (2008) and Kampala (2010). Suicide bombers are becoming common and a new development is the use of remotely initiated suicide bombs carried by children who approach targets such as soldiers or civilians and which are then detonated by a terrorist from a safe distance. In Iraq and Afghanistan, EODs and IEDs are commonly used along roads to destroy vehicles, kill people and disrupt communications.

Many insurgents and terrorist groups are aided and abetted by criminal gangs, and especially the Narcotics cartels which are now global in scope. Insurgents are used to defend their activities. Terrorists are used to kill officials who oppose the drug cartels. This enables the drug cartels to move their products from place to place without interference. The vast sums of money held by the cartels is used to finance insurgency and terrorism and enables them to use more and more sophisticated means to move drugs. The drugs moving from South America to North America are now moved by fast boats, semi submersibles, towed "torpedoes", submarines, aircraft, light business jets, microlights and even airliners). The border fence along the US-Mexican border is breached by tunnels, ladders over the fence and even Ballistae (as used by the Roman legions). The movement of drugs is now a global enterprise. In the Middle East (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.) drug gangs benefit from the wars and insurgencies raging in that area.

To summarise the above, there is a clear trend of bandit groups, narcotics syndicates, smugglers, guerrillas and terrorists to cooperate with one another:

This immensely complicates analysis and planning.

This concluded the first part of Major Heitman's talk. He next discussed Defence Policy in the context of South Africa. War is a constant occurrence in recorded history. Frederick the Great of Prussia is quoted as saying "It is the fashion of our times to fight wars and in all likelihood that fashion will endure for some time yet. History proves that securing the property of all citizens and making them as happy as human nature allows - that is the duty of anyone who stands at the head of a society". (A quotation by Frederick the Great) To defend a society requires armed forces. Konrad Adenauer said "every state has an army on its territory. If not its own, then that of a neighbour ...."

As discussed above, the world is in an era of competition among great, major and regional powers for the control over resources and territory. These powers act in their self-interest and their competition impacts on smaller, weaker countries - directly and indirectly and particularly in Africa. There are many areas of conflict and instability in the world today, especially in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and South West Asia. In Africa, local conflict and instability is aggravated by competition between major powers. Neither the World nor Africa are guaranteed peace. One cannot predict when threats might arise or the form they might take. So all countries including South Africa must maintain the ability to defend themselves and protect their people and vital interests against aggression. That is the purpose of the Defence Force. The country needs a Defence Policy to control the use of the Defence Force. This Policy is rooted in the country's Constitution.

This states that the primary object of the Defence Force is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force. To this the 2015 defence review added the "protection of vital national interests". These are assets and interests that are so critical to South Africa's functioning as a state and economy that the use of force to protect them is justified. The Defence Force may also be used to preserve life, health or property, to maintain or provide essential services or assist the SA Police Services in upholding law and order. The SANDF has been deployed in the DRC, Darfur, Burundi, the Central African Republic, and, for anti-piracy patrols, in the Mozambique Channel. It has provided disaster relief in Mozambique and South Africa and has carried out mountain and sea rescue, fire-fighting operations and supplied water during droughts.

The Defence policy sets out South Africa's defence posture (the circumstances in which it will or may resort to the use of force), how it will authorise the employment of force, the broad defence concept and doctrine, the capabilities required to implement that concept and how the country will resource and invest in its defence capability. It also sets out the broad structure, roles and functions of the Department of Defence, Defence Force and Defence Secretariat. Defence Policy is part of the National Security Policy and Foreign Policy.

The foundation of our defence policy is to maintain the defence force at a strength, balance of capabilities and training standard sufficient to deter aggression against South Africa or allied nations (the SADC), defeat aggression that cannot be deterred, deter violation of its territory and maintain sovereignty. It must safeguard its people, national interests and support neighbours facing serious aggression or large-scale instability. All of this is tied to government policy - are we to be an isolationist state or a regional or continental power? It must be aligned to an ever-changing political, strategic and military situations. "Nations have no permanent friends or allies; they only have permanent interests". The military are governed by national laws, public international law and internationally recognised conventions governing warfare. The military is controlled by the duly elected civil government, commanded by the head of state and with a responsible cabinet minister reporting to Parliament. Government decides on national strategy and the Military develops appropriate military strategies and develops the forces required to execute them when required to do so. Government and Military must co-operate in carrying out this process or chaos and disaster will surely follow, e.g. Vietnam, which was a perfect example of politicians thinking that they knew more than the generals.

Another example of politicians over-ruling military commanders is Iraq 2003. There, in addition, both civil and military leaders failed to consider what should be done after the fighting ended. The result was the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS and the current chaos in the Middle East today. The Defence White Paper of 1996 states that government:

Government unfortunately does not seem inclined to heed this part of the White Paper.

While government has a duty to ask for and heed the advice of its military, the military has the equal duty to be honest in its advice. There is no room for telling government what it might want to hear. Military inadequacies must not be hidden to save embarrassment. Dishonest advice can lead to disastrous decisions or the commitment of forces to operations for which they lack the strength or the equipment or both. The result will be measured in damage and death. South Africa does not currently face any threat of major aggression. But, in times of new great power competition, it would be unwise to assume safety. We should aim at being an unattractive target, basing our strategy on geographic advantages. A "Defence Triad" comprising mutually reinforcing deterrent elements:
* Threshold: strong mechanised forces, raising the investment required by an aggressor to unattractive levels
* Denial of Entry: submarines, making entry into the theatre risky - major aggressors will have to come by sea
* Denial of Manoeuvre: fighters making any quick operational success unlikely by disrupting manoeuvering and supply along the region's thin road/rail network.

Finally our speaker discussed the SANDF and its structure and equipment. But first a definition of soldiers from an anonymous writer: "We, the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have now done so much for so long with so little, we are now capable of doing anything with nothing".

The SANDF is commanded by the President. Reporting to him is the Minister of Defence. The Chief of the SANDF reports to the Minister and commands the SANDF. Under the CSANDF are,
* the Chief of Joint Operations, directing operations under the CSANDF,
* the Service Chiefs, commanding their services and providing combat ready forces,
* and the Division Chiefs, commanding the supporting divisions under the CSANDF.

In addition there are Central Staff Divisions which are controlled by the CSANDF and the civilian Secretary of Defence who also controls staff divisions outside the military force. A very complex set-up indeed.

The SA Army is commanded by the Chief of the SA Army to whom the Deputy Chief of the Army and the Sergeant-Major of the SA Army report. Also reporting to the Chief of the Army are the following:
* Chief Director Army Force Structure, who controls DCD Army Structure, Director Army Structure, Director Army Logistics, DPSM and Director Army Renewal
* Chief Director Army Force Preparation, who controls Deputy Chief Director Army Force Preparation and Director ADT Policy
* Chief Director Army Corporate Services, who controls Deputy Chief Director Army Corporate Services, CSS, Specialist Officers, Specialist Staffs, Director Army SD and Director Army Career Management

Fitting in under this complex structure are the Type formations for Infantry, Artillery, Air Defence, Armour, Engineers, Army Training, Army Support, Army Signals, Army Intelligence. Under this come the field commands - 43 and 46 Brigades, which are headquarters units only with no fighting units directly attached. This structure is bureaucracy gone wild and is to be replaced with a more standard organisation with hopefully a large reduction in staff. The fighting formations include 13 infantry, 2 armour, 1 artillery, 1 air defence, 1 parachute and 3 engineer battalion-sized units, ignoring reserve units.

Much of the equipment is obsolete or, at best, in a state of poor repair. There is very little modern equipment and what there is, is in short supply. Some items are being upgraded but, with most of the budget swallowed up in personnel costs, there is little money available. Much of the new equipment is imported while good quality locally produced equipment is not being purchased. The SA Navy is commanded by the Chief of the Navy, to whom report the following:
* Deputy Chief of Navy, who controls Director Maritime Plans, Inspector General and Navy Budget Manager
* Chief of Naval Staff, who controls Director Naval Transformation, Director Naval Logistics and Director Naval Personnel
* Chief Director Naval Strategy, who controls Director Maritime Intelligence, Director Maritime Warfare and Director Maritime Diplomacy & Strategy
* Flag Officer Fleet, who controls Chief of Fleet Staff, Director Fleet Human Resources, Director Naval Engineering Services, Director Fleet Quality Assurance, Director Fleet force Preparation, FOIC Simon's Town and Director Fleet Logistics.

The fleet includes 3 submarines, 4 frigates, a tanker, a very old survey ship and 4 minesweepers and 3 ex-strike craft of extreme age. A totally inadequate force which is waiting for a number of inshore and offshore patrol vessels, which are supposed to be ordered sometime in the future. Again there are budget constraints and personnel costs are extremely high.

The SA Air Force is commanded by the Chief of the SAAF to whom report the following:
* Inspector General of the Air Force
* Chief Director of the Air Force, who controls Director Air Capabilities and Plans, Director Logistics, Director Military Regulations and Policy, Director Human Resources and Finance.
* General Officer Commanding Air Command, who controls Chief Directors Force Development and Support, Staff Services and Force Preparation
* Chief Director Force Development who controls Directors for Technical Services, Managing Services, SAAF Liaison, Budget Management, Aviation Safety, Air Force Acquisition, Human Resource Services and Foreign Relations
* Chief Director Force Preparation who controls Combat Systems Group, Ops Support Systems and Intel Group, Helicopter Systems Group, Transport and Maritime Systems Group, Base Support Systems Group, Command and Control Systems Group and Director Training, Education and Development.

This complex set-up controls 8 Air Force Bases and 2 Air Force Stations with 11 squadrons and some training units. Equipment includes modern aircraft (Saab Gripen and Hawk), modern or upgraded (Oryx, A109, BK117, Rooivalk and Lynx) and obsolete (C47TP - 75 years old, C130B - 60 years old). These are short of spares which also are very expensive. The rest of the aircraft are pretty old and not very well maintained. Again funds available are largely spent on personnel, with little available for other purposes.

The Special Forces are under-strength and under-financed, as are the formations making up the Medical Health Services. Our speaker spent some time discussing the equipment, both in current use and available for purchase in the future.

The acquisition of military equipment involves a complicated and time-consuming process, which starts with a service defining a "required operational capability" in line with guidelines from Chief of Joint Operations. This is approved at Defence Headquarters level. Joint Project Teams then continue the process. If the value of the contracts is very large, Cabinet will become involved. These Teams comprise people from the relevant service who are on the staff of the Chief of Material with people from Armscor. The process is long, complex and time-consuming (and expensive) and the scribe is not really sure that Armscor serves any useful purpose in this process. Does this process apply only to equipment or does it also apply to supplies such as ammunition, uniforms, etcetera? A prime example of this process was the Strategic Defence Packages, which provided the SANDF with Gripens, Hawks, helicopters, frigates and submarines. These achieved market or lower prices and good financing arrangements, delivered the equipment largely on time and contained the costs to a 3% escalation after inflation. The process was long and elaborate in view of the high costs involved. The SANDF has an established history of equipment and system management. Quite often the concepts of equipment or system families and comprehensive through-life management are hindered by funding limits. The SANDF does not have a history of acquiring capabilities and only a partial history of managing at a capability level. Project Hoefyster, for example, is acquiring an Infantry Combat Vehicle but is not getting a logistic vehicle family that can keep pace with the ICV. Project Biro is looking at patrol vessels, but does not cover the helicopters/UAVs required to make them effective.

Much of our equipment is obsolete (Samil Trucks, C130 and C47TP aircraft, tanks, etc.) or obsolescent (field- and anti-aircraft weapons, armoured cars, engineering equipment, mine counter measures vessels). The excuse is always that "there is no money" but 70% of the defence budget is spent on personnel, which is excessive. (This could be the subject of a separate lecture.) Allied to the Defence Force is the Defence industry. This supports the SANDF by enabling effective operations, a credible deterrence while allowing a level of strategic independence, a level of sovereign capability in selected areas and giving the SANDF a tactical or operational edge. It also provides the country with export opportunities.

The industry has largely found niche areas in the defence industry, with products in the command and control, electronic warfare, information and communications technology, rugged tactical vehicles, precision munitions, mine and IED detection, long-range artillery, CBR defence and battlefield medical care.

Denel's primary purpose is to develop, manufacture, modernise, upgrade and support armaments and related equipment and systems for the Defence Force and other security services as required and where these is not commercially viable for private enterprise or cannot be handled by the private sector for security reasons.

Our speaker also discussed the Defence Review 2016. This was a comprehensive document which considered the current, run-down state of the SANDF and what needs to be done to reverse this situation. It looked at what Government envisages the SANDF doing by way of peace-keeping deployments and defence of our borders in the foreseeable future, how to arrest the current decline and provide the forces necessary to carry out our international commitments and to defend our territory. In short to provide a sustainable Defence Force that will meet our strategic requirements and our regional responsibilities. It also lists the requirements for weapon systems and equipment to carry out these tasks and the manpower needed. It makes the point that the Defence Budget needs to be increased substantially to pay for this over a lengthy period - from the current less than 1% to 2% of GDP. Is Government prepared to do this or must we withdraw from all deployments in Africa and confine ourselves to local defence only?

After a question and answer period, our chairman thanked Major Heitman for a long but information-packed, informative and thought-provoking talk and presented him with the customary gift.


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /