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Project Millenium LPHD

Project Millennium is a registered SANDF project on its SCAMP Master Projects List. Its function is strategic sealift and sustainment (SSS). It had been shelved in 2008 due to financial constraints. It may be a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) or Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) type of vessel. The project is in the definition phase. Depending on the actual vessel type acquired, up to three vessels of between 8,000 tons and 18,000 tons will be acquired (one for the West Coast one for the East Coast and one for maintenance).

In 2007, Mosiuoa Lekota—who was then the minister of defence—formally signed off on a research and development programme aimed at assessing the viability of procuring a sea vessel for the purposes of strategic transportation of military supplies and machinery to projects across the African continent. “We were in need of a ship that could transport peace support equipment to places like Sudan and the Ivory Coast [Côte d’Ivoire]. We were concerned about the costs incurred in flying equipment there,” Lekota, now president of opposition party Congress of the People (Cope) told the Mail & Guardian.

In the 2005 to 2007 era, Vice-President of International Sales Rear Admiral (Retired) Jonny Kamerman was trying to convince the DoD and SA Navy not to acquire these LPDs through standard acquisition procedures, but to exercise the Project Sitron Corvette Contract Option for a 5th Vessel and acquire an LPD from Germany out, rather than a 5th patrol corvette. Millennium survived the 2005/2007 round to become a great opportunity for the 2012 to 2015 team.

In 2007 South Africa considered buying at least one and possibly as many as three amphbious assault ships. One ship might be bought by the SA Navy with another possibly bought by the Southern African region. It could be funded mostly by the South African Government outside of the regular defence budget with other Southern African Development Community states chipping in. The vessels were to be used in peace support operations and no one can dispute the utility of such vessels in these roles.

The SAN wanted to buy at least two (maybe even three) LHDs in the 20,000 tons range. One of these was to be operated to some extent on behalf of other African countries, most notably those in SADC. Having considered LPDs, the SAN decided the extra capability provided by LHDs was worth the expense. The three designs under consideration were the Mistral-class, Navantia's BPE and ThyssenKrupp's MHD-150. They range in capability from being able to carry 11 helicopters and 750 troops to 16 helicopters and 1000 troops, along with 12 or so tanks and a few dozen armoured vehicles. TKMS would offer the MHD-150 (or MRD-15000), which is a full 15,000-ton small LHD (with 5 helo spots, hangar for 11 helos, 800 lane meters, LCU/LCAC docking well, accomodation for over 750 troops etc).

Plans called for embarked troops to be drawn from 44 Parachute Regiment, 6 SA Infantry Battalion (Air Assault) and 9 SA Infantry Battalion (which was to become an amphibious unit). The SAN was also interested in deploying its new Maritime Reaction Force (like a limited Marine unit, but not really Marines) off the ships. If a mechanised response were required, 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group or 1 SA Infantry Battalion could be embarked.

South Africa has a very small navy, with a very limited budget (about $180 million - 2007 exchange rates) and about only 5000 personel, so it seemed this purchase will be a very difficult excercise. As of 2007 there was talk of an in-service date of 2013, but that turned out to be overly ambitious.

In June 2007 FNS Tonnerre visited Cape Town, said to be in support of French Naval Industry Marketing for the SA Navy's requirement for two/three Landing Helicopter Deck's, Project MILLENIUM. By 2010 the navy was still pressing for its Project Millenium, two LHD-style 20,000-tonne strategic support ships, which would need medium/heavy (and almost inevitably pre-used) transport helicopters to make them really effective in amphibious operations.

One sceptic noted "My problem with the idea of commissioning a helicopter carrier is where is it going to operate?? The answer may be in hopspots around the world, but we are already having a problem with the SANDF maintaining peace keeping operations on the African continent. Until the SANDF becomes a World Class peace keeping force, we will be restricted to peace keeping efforts within the African Union. I can not see the SANDF moving into other areas becasue Africa has many countries which are ripe for insurrection, etc., now and in the future "Many of the trouble areas are mostly inland from coastal waters, or the country is so large, that it will require a couple of refuelling stops to get to the badlands. If we have a look at the present potential trouble spots in Africa, they are inland - CAR, Chad, Darfur region. All of these very far from the beach.

"So my arguement is; the SANDF is already running on a shoe string budget, and the use of a helicopter carrier will place an extra burden on the existing finances available. Will it not be more cost effective to physically fly the helicopters to the "hot spots" as they do now, instead of floating them across the ocean in a boat."

On 17 January 2012, the Citizen reported that " Jacob Zuma wants an aircraft carrier, and it will be partly up to convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni to decide who will get the contract to supply a warship potentially costing even more than the four frigates bought as part of the controversial 1999 R60 billion arms deal. The Citizen can reveal that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has formally registered a project to acquire a warship capable of operating more than a dozen helicopters, and possibly also vertical take-off jets. Codenamed: “Project Millennium” the acquisition is technically temporarily on ice, however navy insiders have said several ships are being closely looked at, including the French- built “Mistrale” warships as well as smaller vessels from Holland and Germany." However, on closer examination, none of these claims turn out to be true: it wasn’t Zuma’s idea, it isn’t an aircraft carrier, and Tony Yengeni is not involved in deciding who gets to sell us the ships.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, described allegations that South Africa was to procure a warship as wrong, unfair and unethical. In January 2012 the Citizen newspaper claimed that a programme had been established to procure a ship that could operate ‘more than a dozen helicopters’ and ‘vertical take-off jets’. It alleged that President Jacob Zuma had personally authorised the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to acquire an aircraft carrier as part of a project codenamed ‘Project Millennium’.

Briefing reporters in Johannesburg, Sisulu said: “I know nothing about the procurement of a warship, so that headline in the Citizen … was misleading, unethical, unfair and wrong, we need to put that on record.” She said the department would approach the Press Ombudsman about the matter. “We are expecting the Citizen to apologise to us.” The newspaper claimed that the project could potentially cost more than the four frigates bought in the controversial arms deal. The ships were apparently due to be sourced from France, Germany or the Netherlands.

As of mid-2013 all SANDF acquisitions, except possibly Project Biro, are under scrutiny in terms of the Defence Review. In January 2012, a spokesman for the South African Navy, Greyling van den Berg, said: “Project Millennium, the acquisition of a strategic lift capability for the SANDF, has been officially deferred until such time as the Defence Review, being conducted by the Minister of Defence, has been approved by Parliament and promulgated. “Should the Defence Review stipulate that a strategic sea lift capability is a future requirement of the Department of Defence, the project could be reactivated. Time scales will depend on when this requirement is required by.”

The Defence Review 2012 Strategic Consultative Document of 12 April 2012 called for one strategic force projection vessel for inter-theatre and intra-theatre personnel and cargo sea-lift for motorised and mechanised forces, able to multi-role for seaborne command and control, combat service support and hospital services – able to upscale by an additional strategic force projection vessel. In the medium term the focus is to be on acquiring Sealift ships for the SA Army’s sea-landed infantry capability and to acquiring additional Combat Support Ships.

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