South Africa’s army has run out of money – here’s how bad things have got

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans has warned that a severe lack of funding could impact its ability to protect South Africa.

In a media briefing on Wednesday (17 July), Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that her department has been forced to continuously adjust its plans downwards in response to the declining budget in recent years.

“The Defence Force is becoming progressively more unsustainable in terms of declining defence allocations,” she said.

“We have now reached the point where the Republic must decide on the kind of Defence Force it wants and what it can afford. We need a frank discussion very soon as we risk the irreversible damage to the defence force as a whole.”

In a portfolio committee meeting held earlier this month, the department said that the continued lack of funding may impact negatively on the ability of the SANDF to fulfil its constitutional mandate.

It added that over the past three financial years insufficient funds were available to cover expenditure related to compensation of employees.

This had led to the Department of Defence exploring additional sources of revenue, such as the sale of assets (including land), to cover the shortfall.

Declining force 

One of the key issues that was raised during the committee meeting was the protection of South Africa’s borders.

Specific concerns raised included:

  • That the current deployment of 15 SANDF sub-units along South Africa’s borders are insufficient and that at least 22 sub-units are required.
  • The need for technological force multipliers to assist deployed forces along the land borders.
  • Shortages of suitable air assets at the SA Air Force’s 35 Squadron as well as 28 Squadron to effect border patrols.

Other issues identified include:

  • The replacing of South Africa’s infantry fighting vehicles with a modern fleet;
  • Challenges with the SANDF’s Logistical support to operational equipment – specifically the need for aircraft spares;
  • Outdated ICT systems, notably the finance, human resources and logistics systems.

How South Africa compares

According to the latest Global Firepower ranking, South Africa is ranked as having the 32nd greatest military strength in the world – behind Egypt (12th) and Algeria (27th) in Africa.

More than 137 countries feature on the list, with the ranking utilising more than 55 different factors to determine a given nation’s PowerIndex.

According to the ranking, South Africa has 66,300 active personnel and 15,000 reserve personnel.

It also estimates that the country has around 14,175,119 citizens who would be fit-for-service should the country enforce conscription laws.

Notably, the country stands out for its land power but has fallen behind other nations in recent years when it comes to air and naval power.

Air power

South Africa has a total aircraft strength of 206 assets.

This includes:

  • 17 fighter aircraft
  • 17 attack aircraft
  • 23 transport aircraft
  • 67 trainer aircraft
  • 92 total helicopters
  • 12 attack helicopters

Army/Land power

South Africa has a total land strength of 2,888 assets.

This includes:

  • 195 combat tanks
  • 2,500 armoured fighting vehicles
  • 43 self-propelled artillery
  • 100 towed artillery
  • 50 rocket projectors

Naval power

South Africa has a total naval strength of 30 assets.

Notably, the country currently has no aircraft carriers, destroyers or corvette-class vehicles.

This includes:

  • 4 frigates
  • 3 submarines
  • 31 patrol craft
  • 2 mine warfare vessels

Read: South Africa is deploying the army to fight crime – here’s how the murder rate compares to an actual war zone

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South Africa’s army has run out of money – here’s how bad things have got