The South African Army this week held a major capability exercise outside Bloemfontein in order to showcase the combat readiness of the country’s ground forces.
The exercise, held at the General de Wet training ground outside Bloemfontein, replaces both Exercises Young Eagle and Seboka, in an effort to save scarce resources.
The exercise saw live night firing on Wednesday evening followed by a major firepower demonstration on Thursday, which was attended by hundreds of invited guests.
Most Army assets took part, with an emphasis on mobile firepower, supported by two Rooivalk attack helicopters from the Air Force, which fired cannon and rockets at targets on the range. The South African Air Force also contributed several Oryx helicopters, which were used to land and extract troops and equipment. A single A109 Light Utility Helicopter acted as an aerial observation platform.
The exercise began with the spectacular detonation of 800 kg of explosives by Army engineers in a demonstration of their ability to create a crater as an obstacle. Next up a C-130 Hercules dropped five Pathfinders, who managed to parachute safely to earth despite a brisk wind. Once they had made sure everything was right on the ground, a C-130 dropped dozens of paratroopers as well as some cargo.
Supported by Rooivalks, the Oryx then brought in extra troops. Once the friendly troops were out of the way, soldiers arrived in Mambas and began firing at targets. They were soon joined by Ratels, then Rooikat armoured cars and Olifant Main Battle Tanks, which all expended hundreds of rounds of live ammunition.
The Plofadder mine breaching system demonstrated its ability to breach a minefield with a massive wall of explosives. Mortars, rockets and ZT3 missiles were also fired, turning the training ground into what looked like a warzone and sending vast clouds of dust and smoke drifting across the range.
The exercise culminated in all participating vehicles lining up in front of the crowd and saluting the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, who said the capability demonstration was a success. He emphasised that it was important South Africans feel safe. "The army is all South Africans insurance for life and death. It protects against the bad guys coming in,” he said. “For peace to prevail we need strong armies to ward off enemies of peace hence the SA Army’s constant push for enhanced force preparation to enable a heightened form of mission readiness, like the demonstration you just witnessed today.”
He said that protecting troops was an important priority for the Army, as the African battlefield is changing and South African troops often find themselves engaging the enemy in dense jungles and urban zones (such as in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo) which require soldiers be adequately prepared for.
Economic prosperity is reliant on military security and peace, hence the importance of having a combat ready Army, Yam said. "The very reason for a defence force is to allow a country the space to manoeuvre to be able to flex its economic muscle.
“The SA Army as a force has the manpower, hardware and combat capability…to always have combat ready elements comprising almost 13 companies on the domestic front, responsible for border control duties and a standing force commitment towards peace and security operations on the continent under the United Nations and the African Union respectively.”
While Yam applauded the 2014 Defence Review for aiming to arrest the decline of the SANDF, he expressed concern over budget cuts and funding shortfalls. He said he was concerned by the lack of funds the South African National Defence Force is facing as a whole and the need to replace equipment - he said the new hardware arriving in 2017 was not enough. "But‚ while we are receiving new equipment next year‚ the numbers are concerning.”
“The SA Army finds itself having to juggle stringent austere cost cutting measures on the other side with the crucial necessity to still fulfil its domestic and continental responsibilities towards peace and security. We navigate these contested waters with a clear determination to never fail in our commitment to the international community as well as the citizens of our country who expect to sleep at night knowing that their safety and interests are uppermost on what we do as an army.”
Yam said some people say that South Africa should not be committing itself to external operations when there are burning issues inside the country such as border control, but he said the military is committed to do more with what it has and employ innovative ways to use uniformed personnel to meet its constitutional mandate.
“My message to you today is that the SA Army is ready and willing to be deployed in domestic and continental duties to advance the AU’s Agenda 2063 and work towards a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa in concert with our brothers and sisters,” Yam said on Thursday.
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