Surge in SA's army sales to US

South Africa sold 427 armoured combat vehicles to the United States army last year, presumably for use in US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information supplied by the South African government to the United Nations.

A further 30 mine-resistant vehicles were exported to Iraq for use by private contractors or the revived Iraqi national army. This is the single largest consignment of South African weapons exports to the US intended for combat use.

The sales are in the 2007 South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) report to the UN, but have not been reported by the NCACC to Parliament as required by legislation.

The committee, set up to ensure transparency in arms exports, must report annually to Parliament. But, according to deputy defence minister Fezile Bhengu, this has never happened.

The UN figures suggest South Africa has become a leading foreign supplier of mechanised infantry vehicles to the US military.

South African exports account for nearly 50% of vehicles purchased in that category in the year reported.

Of the 427 armoured vehicles, 424 are RG31s manufactured by the Benoni-based BAE Land Systems, a subsidiary of the controversy-plagued British arms conglomerate BAE Systems.

However, this tally probably exceeds the annual output of the East Rand factory, which is known to have a production capacity of between 12 and 20 vehicles a month.

Not included in the UN figures are vehicles assembled by sub-contractors from existing reserves or which have been imported, re-tooled and refurbished.

In addition 51 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, key US allies and suppliers of crude oil to South Africa, in 2007.

It can be expected that follow-up contracts for maintenance, repair and replacement of vehicles lost in combat will continue to keep the BAE factory and sub-contractors busy.

The report also reveals gaps in the information provided by South Africa on its arms exports.

Although seven categories of weapons can be disclosed to the UN, only APCs were declared. However, Indonesia’s 2007 declaration to the UN disclosed that among the nearly 3 000 small arms it imported, 210 5,56mm-automatic rifles came from South Africa.

Indonesia also purchased eight South African-manufactured recoilless anti-tank guns, marketed by Denel as “anti-material”, and four 20mm canons.

In South Africa there is a shift from assembling fighting vehicles to more valuable and sophisticated military technologies.

Wireless communication companies Omnipless and Cobham, contractors to the US defence department market, assemble and produce equipment to help reduce friendly-fire incidents.

Included in their technologies are “Identification Friend or Foe” (IFF) electronics for F-16 and F-18 jet fighters and new-generation mine detection and detonation equipment attached to infantry or their APCs.

These products also do not feature in the NCACC’s UN report, which provides for the inclusion of non-lethal military exports.

Rheinmetall of Germany, which has bought into state arms manufacturer Denel, can now participate in contracts to supply Nato with standard small arms and artillery munitions.

However, South Africa made no disclosure of small or large-calibre ammunition exports last year.

Parliament appears to be pushing for greater transparency through an amendment to the National Conventional Arms Control Act.

This would oblige NCACC and its secretariat, the directorate of conventional arms control, to report all sales, exports and imports and their value on a quarterly basis to Parliament.

However, the Bill provides only for Parliament to review—not reject—export permits, as it will receive data only for the preceding quarter.

In line with industry’s wishes it also provides for various exemptions, most notably for repair and testing.

With a staff of just 16, the directorate admits it is struggling to perform reporting duties and has been unable to enforce regulations promulgated last year under legislation prohibiting South African-based mercenary activity in conflict areas.

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