The South African Navy's Valour class frigates will benefit from a mid-life upgrade over the next 10 years to extend service life beyond 2035.
The SA Navy (SAN) officer tasked with heading up the mid-life upgrade (MLU) project for the frigates, Captain Michael Girsa, is reported as having told an IQPC surface warships conference in Romania earlier this year that work was expected to start around 2017/18 and would improve both capability and capacity of the frigates.
In order to improve the frigates’ maritime interdiction capability, new rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) with improved communication systems will be embarked and the self-protection systems of the embarked Super Lynx maritime helicopters, operated by the SA Air Force’s 22 Squadron will also be improved. This will see a better airborne search capability and better connectivity back to the vessels, according to Jane’s Navy International.
"Anti-surface warfare is the primary role for the frigates, and we'll update or replace the current Exocet (Block 2) anti-ship missile system," Girsa told the conference. The current Denel Umkhonto surface-to-air missile system will also be enhanced, maintaining its air defence capability against evolving threats. The ships have a limited anti-submarine warfare role, so the existing Thales Kingclip sonar is expected to be retained.
The fitted above water sensor suite is reaching the end of its usable life. This includes the Thales MRR G-band air/surface search radar, and the electronic warfare suite comprising the Grintek EWASION system, for communications electronic support measures (CESM), and a Saab Avitronics radar electronic support measures system, will be replaced.
The existing Reutech RTS 6400 optical radar tracker (ORT), sited forward, is to be retained but the electro-optical tracker (EOT), sited aft, is to be replaced with a new system. The existing combat management system, originally developed and supplied by African Defence Systems (ADS), is also set to be upgraded or replaced.
The existing gun systems, including the Oto Melara 76/62 compact guns forward and the Denel 35 mm gun systems aft, are to be upgraded to enhance both fire-support and self-defence capabilities.
Operational experience of working in confined and austere ports - such as the counter-piracy campaign Operation Copper that has been in place since 2011, under which the Navy is required to maintain a presence in the Mozambique Channel - has meant the ships will be fitted with a bow-thruster to improve manoeuvrability, Girsa said. Other elements of the propulsion system to be covered include improvements to the waterline exhaust system, in particular water management.
As far as coping with new threats that have emerged in particularly the littoral environment such as the arrival of IED (improvised explosive device) technology in the (African) region and a missile attack on an Egyptian patrol boat indications are all four Valour Class frigates will, at some point, be fitted with close-in detection systems.
SAS Amatola last year went a mid-life refit and was taken back into service at Simon’s Town earlier this year. There was, at the time of publication, no indication of when the planned mid-life refit for SAS Isandlwana might start.