The Reserves are, according to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke, “a vital component” of the South African military and to ensure the part-timers remain an integral part of the one force concept there is a need for modification and updating.
“The current Reserve Force system has stood us in good stead and delivered good results but is in need of modification and updating to meet current budget constraints and future requirements,” he writes in the summer edition of the Reserve Force Volunteer.
Exactly what the Reserves are going to look like and operate as is, according to Chief of Defence Reserves, Major General Roy Andersen, “a work in progress”.
A work session has been scheduled for the third week of February where he sees “thoughts being progressed” on the issue.
An indication of the importance of the Reserve Force to the overall mandate of protecting South Africa’s territory and sovereignty comes from the ongoing border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
At times last year more than half of the 15 companies deployed on border protection were Reserve Force Units showing 2016 was, in Andersen’s words “an active year for the Reserves”. This has been acknowledged by Shoke who singles out the “particular role” the Reserves are filling in augmenting the Regulars on South Africa’s borders.
All told around fifteen thousand Reserve Force members in various musterings were called up for duty during 2016.
Last November Andersen gave a Defence Force Service Commission conference in Pretoria some insights from a business community point of view, as well as that of a soldier.
Business, he said, wanted to know why the country was spending R47 billion a year on defence when there are other priorities including education and healthcare.
“Frustration is often shown in conversations among SANDF leaders who ask ‘why is it not realised that by an ever decreasing SANDF budget, in real terms, and by spending less than two percent of GDP on defence, South Africa is running a real risk’.
“So where does the truth lie between these two, admittedly at times, superficial lines of thought?” he asked, pointing out, among others the chances of peace missions where South Africa is involved could turn into combat situations as happened in the Central African Republic in 2013.
The deterrence value of the SANDF in its entirety is one means of mitigating risks in Africa, where government’s foreign policy has committed the military to peace support missions.
For the deterrence factor to work, credible combat forces, rapid force generation, trained reserves, strong doctrine, quality training, technology and good morale are essential. The current – and probable future - budget restraints will increasingly place these capabilities under threat.
He told the conference consequences of the ever-diminishing defence budget made matters “gloomy”.
“The defence force is in a critical state of decline, characterised by force imbalance between capabilities, block obsolescence and unaffordability of main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments and a lack of critical mobility.
“Left unchecked and at present funding levels this decline will severely compromise defence capabilities.
“There must either be a greater budget allocation or significantly scaled down level of ambition.
“Even with an immediate intervention, it will take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability.
“The longer the neglect is perpetuated, the greater the effort, time and cost necessary to arrest the decline and restore minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa’s borders, protect its trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions, safeguard South Africa and its people and defend and protect the country against external aggression,” Andersen said.
At the other end of the scale Shoke wants to see both the Regulars and Reserves being “fit, young and ready” as well as being properly disciplined across all ranks.