Marines: South Africa Seeks Ships

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October 17, 2007: In a move to upgrade its navy, South Africa is looking into acquiring amphibious shipping. This is not only a sign of South Africa rebuilding its military after decades of being embargoed, but it is also a sign that it intends to become a major regional power in its own right, rather than by default.

Much of this is due to the fact that South Africa is arguably the most functional government in sub-Saharan Africa. They also have a reasonably well-educated and large population. As such, they are likely to take the lead in the African Union's rapid deployment force. In order to have a rapid deployment force, one needs power-projection capabilities.

To get this, South Africa is not only looking into amphibious vessels, but it is also going to acquire Airbus A400 transports. These transports have a range of up to 9,300 kilometers, and can carry up to 41 tons of cargo. These will replace aging C-130s, and try to acquire modern fighter-bombers.

Among the amphibious vessels that South Africa is considering is LHDs like the French Mistral-class or similar designs from Spain. This would, in essence, give South Africa the first African carrier, even if it were a "Harrier carrier". The French Mistral-class vessel displaces 24,000 tons and carries 16 NH90 helicopters. The Spanish design is a little larger (27,000 tons), and also it was much more versatile, and it includs a ski-jump on the bow (which enables short-take off aircraft to get into the air with a heavier bomb load). Spain's version of this vessel, which will be named Juan Carlos I, will be able to carry up to 30 Harrier V/STOL multi-role aircraft in some situations – or it can carry a similar number of helicopters, like the Agusta A109s in South African service.

The landing ship (or ships) would go along with four new MEKO A200SAN frigates, which displace 3,700 tons, and are armed with a 76mm gun, sixteen Umkhoto point-defense surface-to-air missiles, eight Exocet anti-ship missiles, and four 12.75-inch torpedo tubes. The Umkhoto was designed in South Africa (which did become largely self-sufficient in producing and designing its own weapons due to the embargoes against it).

South Africa's emergence as a major regional power in Southern Africa has largely been by default. Many of its neighbors are very poor or dysfunctional. Still, its modernization of its forces is going to make that regional power status legitimate in its own right. – Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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