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Type 209 class Submarine

Three Type 209 submarines were acquired for the SA Navy from the German Submarine Consortium. Final approval for their purchase was given on 15 September 1999 and the contract was signed on 7 July 2000. The submarines are being built in Kiel, Germany, by theGerman Submarine Consortium, consisting off Thyssen Nordtsee Werke, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werf (HDW) and Ferrostaal, with a first delivery date of September 2005, and then at 12 month intervals thereafter.These submarines replaced the aged French Daphne submarines which had been in service since the 1960s and for which certain spares have become obsolete.

Supplier Submarine model Country
DCN Scorpene France
GSC 209 1400 Mod Germany
Fincantieri S1600 Italy
Kockums Type 192 Sweden
RFIs on the defence requirements were submitted to 11 countries during September 1997, and 37 responses were received from nine countries during October 1997. DoD and Armscor evaluated the responses against predetermined value systems and a shortlist of possible suppliers from seven different countries was recommended to, and approved by, the AAC during January 1998. During February 1998, RFOs were issued to the shortlisted seven countries to submit proposals for the supply of the seven categories of equipment to be procured with foreign participation. At the RFO stage, offers for submarines were received from four foreign suppliers.

On 18 November 1998, Cabinet approved a recommendation from DoD, the DoF and the DTI regarding preferred bidders for the supply of the equipment. Cabinet resolved that the DoF, DoD, Department of Public Enterprises and DTI could enter into contract negotiations with the preferred bidders with a view to achieving affordable agreements. GSC of Germany was selected as the preferred submarine supplier. On 13 June 1999 the Minister of Defence released a press statement indicating that IONT had reached a milestone in finalising the equipment cost and IP draft terms of the agreement for the acquisition of three submarines for the South African Navy at a contract price of R4,5 billion subject to Cabinet approval. The industrial participation benefits that would accrue to the South African economy were given as R19 billion. The press release by the Minister did, however, state that the terms of the agreement had to be ratified by the Ministers’ Committee, whereafter a final agreement would be considered by Cabinet and depend on affordability. It would appear that the initialling of the contract without the actual signing thereof by all the parties did not constitute a binding agreement. Final approval for the contracting was granted by Cabinet on 1 December 1999 for DoD to sign the contracts.

In terms of tonnage, more than 95% of South Africa’s imports and exports and over 80% in terms of monetary value pass through the country’s ports. The SA Navy’s primary function is to ensure that its sea-borne trade is not threatened. Submarines’ inherent stealth makes them excellent vessels for obtaining information on illegal activities in territorial waters. They are used successfully against illegal shipping and/or fishing activities by discretely gathering information, which is passed on to surface vessels for action. In addition, they are used as force multipliers. Submarines are considered strategic equipment in the SANDF and are considered to be a vital force in protecting the security of South Africa.

The South African Navy will deploy its submarines in the following manner:

  • In support of international peacetime joint operations;
  • To act as a strategic deterrence against would-be future aggressors;
  • To patrol/protect natural resources in vital areas of national interests, including our fishing zones;
  • To collect acoustic, electronic and communications intelligence, and photographic intelligence, on a covert basis in support of peacekeeping and specific intelligence gathering operations.

Submarines form a crucial part of any balanced navy. A modern conventional submarine can operate independently for weeks, and is virtually "invisible" to most surface ships and aircraft. When dived, it is largely unaffected by the threats that surface forces typically face.

A submarine's inherent stealth makes it an excellent vessel to counter other submarines and warships. It's mere presence in a hostile situation can be enough to keep a surface fleet alongside. Even powerful aircraft carrier groups have to operate with caution in submarine waters, or avoid them altogether. This stealth factor also makes them highly suited for obtaining information on illegal activities in one's own waters.

Because of the discreet nature of submarines, their immediate use in an operational area can be non-threatening. They can be sent to an area, and then withdrawn, without raising tensions in that area. In this regard, the waters along the South African coast are ideally suited for submarine operations. The different thermal layers found at varying depths, where the "barrier" formed between hot and cold water affects sonar beams, gives them a distinct tactical and operational advantage over surface vessels.

Submarines are therefore force multipliers for the Navy. Without them the Navy would have to have more surface ships to provide the same level of defence and deterrence. Their small crews and low fuel consumption also make them relatively cheap to operate, in comparison with surface combatant.

Concerning the defensive posture of the South African National Defence Force, submarines rate amongst the most significant in the country's inventory of defense systems. As has been discussed, the mere presence of a South African submarine is a reminder to potentially hostile naval force to keep clear of our territorial waters.

In summary, the relatively small number of submarines that the Navy operates helps keep the surface force modest in terms of numbers and sophistication, thus reducing the overall costs of South Africa's maritime defence. They give the Navy credibility in the international naval environment and force larger, more powerful navies to take cognizance of their presence. Used wisely, they are the country's ultimate strategic defence mechanism.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2012 19:12:02 ZULU