SA Navy needs more than three offshore and three inshore patrol vessels - expert
Written by Guy Martin, Friday, 19 June 2015
Although a welcome boost to the South African Navy and local shipbuilding industry, the six new inshore and offshore patrol vessels being acquired under project Biro have been criticised as being too few, with an expert suggesting at least eight offshore patrol vessels are needed to adequately patrol South Africa’s waters.
Defence analyst and former Defence Review committee member Helmoed Romer Heitman has suggested that three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) are too few. “They are relatively small ships and will be limited in their ability to conduct patrols far from home without either a base or a local support arrangement, or a support ship in company. But they will be a very useful complement to the frigates,” he stated.
However, when it comes to the inshore patrol vessels (IPVs), Heitman is of the opinion that “the three 60 m IPVs now envisaged as part of Biro are an embarrassing misstep by the Navy and will be an entirely pointless expenditure,” because, “at 60 m they will be too large and complex to be the 'cheap and cheerful' equivalent to the old SDPs, to be used for close inshore work and more importantly to train and develop officers and ratings…At 60 m they will be too small to be really useful (the strike craft were good special operations platforms, but had the speed and the self-defence capability these vessels will lack.
“The Navy's experience with the strike craft demonstrated that 60 m is precisely the wrong hull length for SA waters: Shorter and the ride is lively but dry; longer and the ride is more comfortable and dry. At 60 m it is uncomfortable and wet, with real risk of damage in rough seas. Remember how many of the strike craft found themselves inadvertently doing a submarine crash dive imitation in rough seas.
“What we should be doing is increasing the OPV buy to at least four now, with a target - as per all of the previous studies - of twelve. Study of the DR [2014 Defence Review] will show that the absolute minimum number will be eight, accepting some gaps and some tasks falling to the frigates,” Heitman stated.
He suggests that the South African Navy should re-role the three refitted strike craft (and possibly a fourth) for the fast inshore patrol role as they will be able to do what the new IPVs will be able to do and will cost much less to bring to a standard for that role.
Heitman goes on to suggest that the IPV requirement should be revisited to develop a vessel of somewhere around 30 to 40 m, “which will be cheap and simple and good enough for patrolling port environs - and ideal for training.”