The 'Spiienkop' undergoing sea trials in False Bay
The South African Navy (SAN) was in the process of refurbishing its fleet said Navy chief Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu at a media breakfast at Admiralty House in Simonstown recently.
With the frigates now between seven and eight years old and due for a refit/upgrade to keep them in good condition for the rest of their working life, it was important to keep them in service as long as possible, said Rear Admiral Hanno Teutenberg, chief director of maritime strategy for the SAN.
Refitting and upgrading was being done on an eight-year cycle to ensure the SAN maintained its fleet in top operational condition. Further, with the submarines now between four and six years old, the same also applied to them. The SAS 'Protea' had recently been upgraded and is now operationally active, even though it is an old vessel.
The SAS 'Protea' undergoing sea trials in False Bay
The upgrade package was "all part of keeping the SAN a small, first-class navy that can be respected world-wide as the best on the continent of Africa," said Rear Admiral Teutenberg. This could only be done by ensuring its operational vessels were in tip-top working condition.
“We must be able to fight at sea and, if challenged, to win at sea, and through our demonstrated abilities, remain unchallenged at sea,” he said.
Part of the upgrading process was to revive South Africa’s capacity to refurbish its vessels itself so the turnaround time of upgrading could be minimised. The SAN could not afford to send its vessels overseas for servicing and upgrading, or rely on the supply of parts from other parts of the world.
“We are developing the local capacity so ‘local’ can support the navy on time, all the time,” he said.
The SAS 'Drakensberg'
After refitting and upgrading, the next stage was to do the necessary harbour and sea trials to ensure everything was operational. Of the frigates, the SAS 'Amatola' was operationally deployed. The SAS 'Spiienkop', meanwhile, was approaching readiness for deployment but presently is only available for minor tasks. The SAS 'Isandlwana' was in for maintenance and repairs, while the SAS 'Mendi' was being prepared for a refit.
On board the SAS 'Isandlwana' during Navy Day
Of the submarines, the SAS 'Charlotte Maxeke' was operationally available. The SAS 'Queen Modjadji' was being used for training while undergoing short-term maintenance, and the SAS 'Manthatisi' was undergoing a refit. The future plan was to have up to two of the submarines deployed in continuous operations. The "obsolescence management and upgrade projects" ensured the submarines maintained their capability until end of their projected life, which would be around 2038.
The 'Lilian Ngoyi' and SAS 'Umgeni' in dry dock
Of the patrol vessels, the SAS 'Galeshewe', SAS 'Umhloti' and SAS 'Umzimkulu' were all operationally available. The SAS 'Isaac Yobha' and SAS 'Umkomaas' were alongside for maintenance, the SAS 'Makhanda' and SAS 'Umgeni' were undergoing a refit and the SAS 'Adam Kok' was awaiting a refit. According to SAN, the future aim is to have five of the patrol vessels operationally deployed and/or available for deployment, two available for training and short-term maintenance, two in refit and two undergoing long-term maintenance. According to Rear Admiral Teutenberg: "this was all part of maintaining the naval fleet in good operational condition."
It was important for naval vessels to undertake a major refit approximately every eight years. Major equipment needed to be removed, inspected, serviced and replaced where required – mostly in the RSA. New main engines needed to be procured and installed by the local industry. The rest of the propulsion diesel servicing would be conducted locally.
Finally, combat suite servicing would be conducted by local industry (the original manufacturer being Thales RSA), whilst the dockyard and SAN staff would be involved in all processes to ensure knowledge transfer which, in turn, would lead to a reduction in outsourced work and refurbishing turn-around time in the future.