Projects Biro and Hotel on hold for budget review
Once again a lack of funding appears to be putting the brakes on the acquisition of much-needed military equipment with the SA Navy’s future patrol vessel capability by no means assured. Tenders for new in- and offshore patrol vessels were called for by Armscor in November 2014 with a closing date, after an extension has been granted due to the complexity of the tenders, of September last year. The build of these six platforms under Project Biro, with a stipulated 60% local content, is seen as a major boost to South African shipbuilding, a sector of economic activity integral to the blue economy part of Operation Phakisa. In its latest annual report, tabled at the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) this week, government’s defence and security acquisition agency states that “the Department of Defence and the SA Navy are in the process of reviewing the budget before a decision regarding continuation of the contracting process is made”. The upgrading of the SA Navy’s hydrographic capability in the form of a new hydrographic vessel to replace SAS Protea (Project Hotel) is in the same position. A tender was published in July 2014 and submissions closed to June last year.
According to the Armscor annual report “the total cost of the offers received exceeded the currently available capital budget for this capability and the Department of Defence and the SA Navy are reviewing the total budget before a decision is made regarding continuation of the contracting process”. In addition to the platform itself, Project Hotel also makes provision for the supply of two fully integrated inshore survey motorboats and a sea boat as well as upgrading the current shore-based hydrographic office infrastructure at Silvermine. This indicates the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will have to make do with an almost 50-yearo-old hydrographic vessel and refurbished strikecraft as patrol vessels for at least the next five to seven years.