Forget the blazing guns of yesteryear — these days naval warfare is a high-tech and sophisticated operation.
This became clear on Monday as an exercise involving Nato warships and the South African Navy got under way off the South African coast.
On board the Portuguese Navy’s Avaras Cabral, an Augusta Westland Helicopter similar to those carried by South African Navy frigates is loaded with sensors and other detection equipment.
The ship is engaged in anti-submarine warfare.
”Once we found the submarine we simply load the helicopter with a torpedo and drop it on the sub,” Lieutenant Miguel Pinheiro Somoej explains. So much for looking the enemy in the eye, swinging a sword like the pirates of the olden days.
This is also a frightening thought for the crew of the South African Navy submarine S101, because while the submarine might be operating in South African waters, it is being hunted by a Portuguese frigate.
The Portuguese vessel is one of six Nato warships currently engaged in a naval-warfare exercise with the South African Navy.
It is the first time that South Africa’s new submarine and two of the four new frigates — the SAS Amatola and the SAS Isandlwana — have been involved in a combined exercise.
Other South African Navy ships as well as aircraft of the South African Air Force will also be involved in taking on Nato’s Maritime Group One.
Besides the Portuguese, frigates from Canada and The Netherlands as well as ships from Germany, the United States and Denmark also form part of the Nato flotilla.
The Nato group is travelling around the African continent making port calls at several African nations, but it is only with the SA Navy that it is conducting full naval exercises.
”It is expected that these exercises will inspire mutual confidence and respect between Nato maritime forces and the South African Navy, allowing for even greater cooperation in possible future combined exercises or operations,” a Nato statement on the exercise explains.
”The deployment aims to demonstrate the alliance’s continuing ability to respond to emerging crisis situations on a global scale and foster close links with regional navies and other maritime organisations,” Nato said.
But while the exercise might have a conventional naval warfare flavour to it, it also includes boarding of ships and other exercises that would help the South Africans and Nato cope with the real threat in African waters these days.
Piracy, armed robbery and terrorism activities on the high seas are increasingly becoming a threat.
The International Maritime Bureau reports that piracy and armed robbery increased by 37% in the second quarter of 2007 compared with that of 2006.
The total number of attacks in the first six months of 2007 was 126, many in African waters.
In Nigeria, 19 incidents have been reported, including the boarding of 15 vessels and one hijacking. Forty crew members were kidnapped and 24 taken hostage.
In Somalia, 17 incidents were reported. Eight vessels were hijacked and 85 crew members taken hostage.
Another sign of the increasing importance of a security operation in African waters comes from the US Navy, which plans from 2008 to have a ”big-deck” presence in the Gulf of Guinea.
”My aspiration is to have a ship there 365 days a year,” said Admiral Harry Ulrich, commander of US Naval Forces Europe and Africa.
The South African Navy has long held the position that its new fleet would be used for anti-piracy and anti-poaching operations.
The training with Nato is its first big joint operation to discover how this might be carried out. — Sapa