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Aerial component of Op Corona border safeguarding totally neglected

Date: 19 June 2020

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The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Joint Operations division has stated that safeguarding South Africa’s air borders has been totally neglected due to insufficient funding, and called for more to be done under Operation Corona.

Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, was due to give a presentation on Operation Corona to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on 18 June, but his presentation was postponed as committee members took exception to the absence of the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke. The presentation was supplied to committee members electronically ahead of the meeting.

The presentation said that since the redeployment of the SANDF to the borders, air border safeguarding “has been neglected in total. This is entirely attributed to the insufficient budget negatively impacting on the availability of air assets and surveillance sensors.”

“The South African Air Force (SAAF) has a very limited and outdated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and air surveillance (radar sensor) capabilities, which are further aggravated by the lacking budget restricting related procurement projects. There are currently no aerial patrols done over either the land or maritime borders.”

Joint Operations called for the SAAF to receive a fixed operating budget with the amount dependant on required borderline aerial patrol hours. It also called for improved air surveillance radar coverage of land and maritime borders, especially for low flying small aircraft crossing borders, and better security presence at small airstrips/fields close to border area to intercept human/contraband smugglers.

Joint Operations said that for illegal cross-border activities in and out of the country, the 1.2 million square kilometres of airspace above the physical borders of South Africa presents excellent intrusion opportunities for the transportation of people, contraband and illegal substances.

“In general this will be done by non-cooperative [radio silent] crews flying small aircraft with low radar-cross sections in non-linearly moving patterns at lower altitudes, and using more sophisticated equipment such as global positioning systems and radar detection systems to avoid radar detection.”

The Joint Operations presentation said that sensors together with optimal intelligence are the minimum requirement to ensure secure airspace.

Land borders

The SANDF has 15 companies of soldiers deployed along South Africa’s land borders. In its presentation for the JSCD, Joint Operations highlighted some of the successes landward forces recorded between January and April this year. They recovered eight illegal firearms, 4 347 kg of dagga, 103 head of livestock, 213 head of small stock, apprehended 7 204 undocumented persons, recovered 42 stolen vehicles, arrested 85 suspected criminals and seized R4.7 million worth of contraband goods.

The purpose of Operation Corona is to control the illegal movements of people and goods across South Africa’s land, sea and air borders. For landward security, Joint Operations called for improvements in some areas, including upgrading the road and fence infrastructure within 10 km of the border area, upgrading base infrastructure to support permanent operations as poor living conditions for troops translate into poor discipline and morale, improving the urgency of the E-procurement system so that maintenance of vehicles and base infrastructure can be done when needed, and improving aerial surveillance of the borderline to determine activity hotspots.

“The SANDF is involved in many operations that secure the Republic of South Africa’s land, sea and air borders,” it said in its presentation. “Though restrained by budget cuts, slow procurement and maintenance processes, the SANDF still remains a critical role player in the defence and security of the country.

“The only way to secure the SANDF’s capability to fulfil its mandate is to capacitate and train effectively with a dynamic logistic support system that will effectively support high tempo operations.”




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