Light armour in Africa under the spotlight at Armour Formation symposium

The African battlespace - especially its landward component and the use of armour - came under the spotlight at the recent SA Army Armour Formation 70th anniversary symposium with a number of speakers pointing out small, preferably wheeled and manoeuvrable was a better option than tracked and heavy. More than 200 delegates heard speakers including Professor Theo Neethling of the University of the Free State; Brigadier General Anton Grundling from the Force Preparation Directorate of the SA Army; SA Army Deputy Chief Major General Lawrence Smith; Brigadier General Chris Gildenhuys Joint Operations, director: operations; Colonel William Dixon, SSO Airborne, SA Army Infantry Formation; military analyst Helmoed Heitman and retired colonel Andries van Wyk, now an analyst, give their insights into armour and its role in Africa. Among questions posed was could the presence of light armour have influenced the outcome of the Battle for Bangui in the Central African Republic during which 15 South African soldiers were killed and the and the attack on Haskenita in Darfur that left 10 dead. Dixon gave delegates an insight into the lessons learnt from the absence of armour in the rapidly changing and volatile environment the South African deployment found itself it in Bangui in March 2013. The paper presented by Major Jean-Pierre Scherman of the School of Armour compared the mandates, forces and outcomes of Operation Boleas in Lesotho against others South African forces have been part of since democracy.

He said Boleas was executed with a mandate given by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1998. The force was made up of armour, mechanised infantry and paratroopers with “all stated objectives achieved within 48 hours”. With Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as another example, the mandate came from the UN Security Council with a UN requested force design of specialised unit and an infantry battalion group. As far as the outcome is concerned it is 17 years and counting he said. Gildenhuys elaborated on Operation Cordite in Sudan and the lessons learnt from the absence of armour. These included no forward support base; no strategic airlift although this was mitigated by chartered airlift; deteriorating first and second line capabilities for logistic and technical support; a lack of adequate firepower; the Mamba 4X4 vehicles have limitations and incidents such as confiscation of weapons, ammunition and vehicles “embarrassed the deployed South African force and the country”.

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