Now underway in and around South African waters is Exercise Mosi, featuring Chinese, Russian, and South African warships. Leading participants are China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) frigate Weifang, the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) cruiser Marshal Ustinov and the South African Navy (SAN) frigate Amatola. All these warships are equipped with anti-shipping and air defence missiles, medium calibre guns and helicopters.
Back-up is being provided by the RFN tanker Vyazma, and tug SB-406, the SAN support ship Drakensberg, and survey vessel Protea.
The five-day, Cape Town-based, exercise commenced on November 25, and is scheduled to include surface gunnery exercises, helicopter cross deck operations , boarding operations and disaster control exercises, as well as a programme of conferences, cultural exchanges and social events.
Both the RFN and the PLAN have carried out bilateral exercises with African navies over the past decade, but Exercise Mosi is the first trilateral exercise, and is of considerable political and strategic significance.
The exercise demonstrates that Moscow is re-emphasising its long-established military relationship with Africa, in the face of Beijing’s growing influence in the region. It is worthy of note that the exercise was preceded by a well-publicised, first-ever, deployment to South Africa of a pair of Russian Tu-160 Blackjack long range strategic bombers.
China, for its part, is enhancing its regional status by carrying out joint operations alongside both its main naval rival, and what is, by a wide margin, Africa’s foremost naval force.
The exercise, furthermore, gives the SAN a chance to bolster its image, following a series of unconfirmed, but widely circulated, reports alleging widespread waste and inefficiency with South Africa’s Armed Forces.
Exercise Mosi also sends a timely reminder that the security of Africa’s offshore seaways remains of great importance to the international community, particularly as these waters are heavily used by deep-draught VLCCs and ULCCs carrying vital energy supplies to industrialised nations.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.