Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2006-09-12 Reporter: Wyndham Hartley

Surprise as Navy Opts for Fifth Corvette



Business Day

Date 2006-09-12


Wyndham Hartley

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Cape Town ­ SA is poised to take up its option to buy a fifth patrol corvette or light frigate to join the four already delivered as part of the multibillion-rand strategic defence package and is negotiating the terms on which it will be acquired.

News that SA has expressed its desire to acquire a fifth corvette follows hard on the heels of Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota telling the National Assembly that the original price tag of the arms deal was almost paid for and the defence force could now consider further acquisitions. Jet fighters and trainers, corvettes and submarines, and helicopters were bought under the original deal in 1999 for a starting price of R30bn.

Helmoed Römer Heitman, local defence expert and correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, reported in the publication late last week that SA had presented a letter of intent to the German Frigate Consortium to purchase a fifth Meko A-200 patrol corvette, now reclassified as a light frigate.

In terms of the original contract of about R6bn for four boats, there was an option to buy more.

This was confirmed last night by chief of the navy Rear-Adm Johannes Mudimu. He said the original contract offer of project Citroen (sic Sitron) was for five Valour class frigates and only four were taken due to budget constraints.

Jane’s reported that the decision to acquire a fifth patrol corvette had come as a surprise to some defence analysts because the navy was focused on other projects, such as the acquisition of offshore patrol vessels.

“It is not clear how the fifth frigate will affect these projects, financially or in terms of crewing.

“The navy had argued that the fifth ship would be practicable only if accompanied by the funding to crew and operate it effectively,” Heitman said.

When approached for comment yesterday, Heitman said a fifth boat made sense ­ in fact six corvettes would be ideal. He said it would have been better to have bought the fifth vessel at the same time as the others because it would have come in at reduced price tag of about R1,2bn. After such a long hiatus between orders, it was likely to now cost more than R2bn.

He said a fifth corvette was badly needed if the navy was to maintain an effective presence in east and west African waters as part of African Union security and peacekeeping initiatives.

The first corvette, SAS Amatola, participated in the combined Exercise Good Hope 2 with the German navy and the German and South African air forces off the Cape this year, escorted the first of the three new Class 209 submarines to SA, and sailed to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian navy’s 50th anniversary.

The second, SAS Isandlwana, will take part in Exercise Atlasur with the Argentinian, Brazilian and Uruguayan navies later this year.

The third and fourth, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi, will be commissioned this year.

The delivery of four AgustaWestland Super Lynx helicopters is due to begin next year, and it seems likely that this contract will now be extended by at least one aircraft, Heitman said.

With acknowledgement to Wyndham Hartley and Business Day

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