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A-200 Valour class Corvette

Frigates provide the surface combat capability of the SA Navy. They are therefore, the prime means of protecting own and allied shipping and the movement of sea-borne trade in our sea lines of communication (SLOCs) from hostile forces. It is an intermediate size vessel with good sea-keeping characteristics that enables sustained operational presence of the SA Navy in the littoral waters. The Frigate is a multi-purpose vessel capable of operating individually, or jointly as a member of a task force with other surface combatants to counter air, surface and sub-surface threats/forces. Its combat roles include interdiction against hostile air, surface and sub-surface threats in the deep battle space areas; support of land forces in the deep battle space areas provision of a joint operations command, control, communications, intelligence and information (C3I2) warfare platform; escort duties and area protection of own SLOCs in the close and rear battlespace areas.

Due to its size and sea-keeping ability, a Frigate is capable of operating specialised maritime helicopters in marginal sea conditions, as are experienced within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These helicopters form an integral part of the Frigates’ combat ability - they are capable of deploying forward sensors and weapons ahead of the task group in order to sanitise the future battlespace. A Frigate provides a multi-dimensional platform capable of executing either peacetime roles, or responding to the hostilities of a belligerent. The presence of a surface combatant of the caliber of a Frigate, is a manifestation of the determination of the RSA Government to defend its territory.

In the 1960?s the Navy acquired three new frigates. The destroyers and frigates of the Navy were phased out due to age and technical obsolescence and by mid 1980 none was left. In 1991 a frigate replacement project based on a staff target requirement approved in 1980 was cancelled before building commenced. The Navy thus entered the 1990?s without the capability to operate effectively in very rough sea conditions and also the capability to operate maritime helicopters at sea. In 1993 the Naval Board (Chaired by the Chief of the Navy) decided to address the problem. The surface ship issue was first. Project Sitron was launched. Due to budget constraints certain requirements were cut and it was decided to opt for patrol Corvettes rather than frigates.

Project Sitron went through all the prescribed project phases and findings. Recommendations were presented to Cabinet in May 1995. Cabinet, was however, not ready to make a decision in this regard. The Minister of Defence was, at the time, concerned about the issue of block obsolescence of the main equipment of all the arms of service. He thought of the idea of countertrade (off-sets or industrial participation). This, inter alia, led to the concept of a strategic defence package that would benefit the SANDF as a whole.

There were allegations that the tendering process for corvettes was reopened after then Deputy President Mbeki visited Germany, to open the way for a German bid despite the Navy’s view that a Spanish company was better placed. (“Early on in the technical phase of the process to decide who would build the four ships required, there was an understanding in the navy that a Spanish company was best placed to meet the requirements. However after a visit to Germany by then Deputy President Mbeki, the tender was reopened.” Andrew Feinstein. Sunday Times, March 23, 2008).

The Government responded that ex-MP Feinstein was recycling a false claim made by Patricia de Lille in 2003, which was shown to be baseless by simple reference to the real facts. A statement by GCIS on De Lille’s allegations on 4 September 2003 put the record straight, drawing on the report of the Joint Investigation Team. These things were supposed to have happened in 1995. At that time the Defence Review, which is the basis of the SDP, had not been adopted. The Review, which was adopted only in 1997, dealt with such matters as force design and broad requirements of equipment; and it served as a basis for the acquisition process. Indeed, as the JIT report records, there was an attempt on the part of the leadership of the SA Navy to acquire corvettes which was rejected by Cabinet in May/June 1995 as Cabinet was not yet ready to take decisions on the procurement, pending the Review. So far as government was concerned there was no decision then to acquire any such weapons nor was there any bidding or short list.

In July 2008 German prosecutors aborted their probe into a decade-old arms deal between the South African Navy and German arms manufacturer, ThyssenKrupp. Despite repeated calls from opposition leaders and local analysts for an inquiry into Mbeki's role in the arms deal, no action in South Africa has been taken to investigate the details of this scandal. The two-year German inquiry concerned the sale of four corvettes in the late 1990s in which ruling ANC leaders allegedly profited from bribes in a multi-billion dollar arms package involving Germany, the U.K. and Sweden. Press reports indicated that internal memos from ThyssenKrupp detail how Chippy Shaik, the former South African head of defense procurement and brother of the infamous Schabir Shaik (who was convicted in 2005 of corruption in this deal), demanded three million dollars in exchange for contracts to build corvettes for South Africa. After failing to secure enough evidence to prosecute ThyssenKrupp during the investigation, the Dusseldorf public prosecutor's office opted to permanently dissolve the investigation.

The force design of the Defence Review included four patrol Corvettes. During the time of the Defence Review the Navy refined the technical specifications for the Corvettes and submarines and invested in technology retention programmes for possible components and subsystems that could be included in the proposed new vessels. Requests for Information were sent to the shipyards on the shortlist of project Sitron (Corvettes) after the principle of the acquisition of the Strategic Defence Packages was approved by Cabinet on 23 September 1997. On 23 September 1997, MoD distributed RFIs to eleven countries for the procurement of the SDP. Responses were to be made by 31 October 1997.

The Corvette bidders were requested to bid only for the ship platform. The Combat Suite, which is the weaponry system of the Corvettes, was to be subcontracted to South African entities to the extent of 60% of its cost which had a ceiling amount of R1 471 billion. The preferred bidder was to enter into a teaming agreement with a local arms manufacturer for the purposes of supplying the Combat Suite. Thirty-seven responses were received from nine countries. The RFIs were evaluated subsequent to 31 October 1997 and a short-list of four bidders for the Corvettes was compiled. The short list of 4 bidders consisted of the German Frigate Consortium (GFC) of Germany, Bazan of Spain, GEC of the United Kingdom and DCN International of France. On 13 February 1998 RFOs were sent out to the short-listed bidders and their offers were submitted by the due date of 12 May 1998.

The aim was to acquire a patrol corvette capability for the SA National Defence Force. The aim was achieved through the acquisition of fully equipped and operationally qualified patrol corvette vessels plus their organic helicopters for the SA Navy, and the successful integration of these vessels and helicopters into the SA Navy and SA Air Force user systems. The vessels were all expected to be fully operational by 2006. Four Westland SUPER LYNX maritime helicopters were procured via a sub-project.

On 3 December 1999 a contract was signed with the European South African Corvette Consortium (ESACC) which includes Blohm + Voss, HDW, TRT, African Defence Systems and Thomson-CSF, for four patrol corvettes for the SA Navy. This contract became effective from 28 April 2000. Two were built by Blohm + Voss Hamburg, and two by HDW.Kiel. The first of the hulls was delivered in 2003 for weapon systems integration in South Africa by African Defence Systems and Thomson-CSF. The first of class completed in 2004 and the last by 2005.

The vessels were acquired from a single main contractor, European South African Corvette Consortium (ESACC), responsible for delivering a total vessel. The ship platforms are built in Germany, accepted in German waters and then sailed to Simon's Town by the SA Navy. Combat suites will be integrated, installed and tested in South Africa, followed sea trials and acceptance of the ships. The German Frigate Consortium (between African Defence Systems (Pty) Ltd, Thyssen Rheinstahl Technik GmbH, Blohm & Voss GmbH, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Weft AG and Thomson- CSF NCS France) as prime bidder/contractor for the supply of corvettes for the Corvette program; and African Defence Systems (Pty) Ltd as sub-contractor for the German Frigate Consortium for the supply of the corvette combat suite for the Corvette Program, including Futuristic Business Solutions (Pty) Ltd for the supply of Integrated Logistic Support Services.

The Patrol Corvettes feature a unique frigate propulsion design: CODAG, that is Combined Diesel And Gas Turbine (combining in the water), and WARP, that is Waterjet And Refined Propellors (32 megawatt installed power). A 20-megawatt gas turbine drives the centreline waterjet and two 6-megawatt diesels turn the two propellers. A cross-connectable gearbox system allows for several engine/driveshaft configurations.

The VALOUR Class ships have a stealth design, including very low radar, infra-red, acoustic and magnetic signatures, a horizontal exhaust, waterjet propulsion and an X-shaped hull design that reflects radar waves away from the source.

All the power plant's exhaust gases are "vented" below the stern bulwark, after injecting the exhaust gases with seawater. As usual for such a design the exhaust port is above the waterline, the engineering difficulties of keeping the water out would be too complicated otherwise. What's revolutionary about it is the use of water jet propulsion in a ship that size, not that much venting exhausts at the water line. The latter has been done by corvettes of German and Russian design for decades, although stern venting usually tends to be more of a Russian design feature - German corvettes tend to vent at the sides of the ship, mostly because the area behind the engines is used otherwise; with WARP the exhaust manifold is simply installed above the water jet taking up the area towards the stern of the engines. At the stern, the "fish mouth" is the water jet, above it is the exhaust vent.

The four ships, SAS Amatola, SAS Isandlwana, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Mendi have all been delivered, although by 2006 only the first two had so far been handed over by the builders and commissioned into the navy.

According to a September 2006 report in Business Day, South Africa was ready to take up an option for a fifth Meko class A200 frigate from the German frigate consortium that built four other ships for the South African Navy. The report was something of a surprise as there had been no public indication that the navy was interested in the extra ship. According to Business Day the fifth ship would costa in the region of R2 Bn, considerably more than the R1.2 Billion paid for each of the first four frigates. The report stated that the chief of the navy, Rear Admiral Johannes Mudimu, had confirmed the intention of buying the extra ship. He said the original contract had been for five ships but only four were taken because of budget constraints.

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Page last modified: 22-05-2013 19:42:17 ZULU