South Africa’s Sad Military: Why Maintenance MattersMar 17, 2013 15:57 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
In 1999, South Africa became the Saab JAS-39 Gripen‘s 1st export customer, ordering 26 fighters. The country is generally considered to be one of Africa’s stronger economies, and a regional security partner. On the defense front, their arms firms have managed to survive, albeit with some adjustment pains and restructuring. They can still produce weapons that are relevant on the world stage. Unless current trends change, however, outside views of the country’s regional security role may need a rethink.
Opposition Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier recently forced the ANC government to acknowledge that 12 of its 26 delivered JAS-39C/D fighters were in long term storage. In reality, the SAAF’s fighter problem is even worse than that. He sums up the situation this way:
“The sad facts of the Gripen system are as follows: 26 Gripen fighter jets were delivered; 10 or fewer are operational; 12 are in long-term storage; there are six qualified pilots; there are about 150 flying hours available to the entire squadron for 2013.”
Business Day’s reporting on this issue is solid, and the state Maynier describes is not an anomaly. Similar reports have surfaced regarding the Navy’s 3 U209 submarines and 4 MEKO A200 frigates, which were the other really big-ticket projects in a 1999 Strategic Defence Procurement Process that has since ballooned to an estimated R70 billion (currently about $7.6 billion).
Buying shiny toys but not having the maintenance, training, or qualified people to operate them is a regular occurrence in Africa. The end result follows like clockwork: a collection of expensive and not-so expensive weapons that are mostly for boast, show, and 10% or so.
Maintenance and support contracts may seem boring – but you can tell a lot about the readiness and state of a country’s military by watching the contracts that take place after the big buys.