SANDF on back foot despite high Global Firepower ranking – experts

The South African National Defence Force scored well in a report on the country’s military capability, but years of underfunding mean its operational strength is growing worse. Picture: AFP

On paper, the SANDF had an ‘exceptionally’ good combined armed force, but its actual operational strength was growing steadily worse, an expert said.

Defence experts yesterday cautioned against the Global Firepower report as a true reflection of SA’s military capability after it positioned the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at 32 of 137 countries assessed.

Global Firepower’s methodology made use of more than “55 individual factors to determine a given nation’s PowerIndex score”, with a perfect score of zero “realistically unobtainable”.

With multitrillion-rand budgets, the US, Russia and China dominated the list, in that order.

Switzerland (33), Syria (50), and New Zealand (87) all featured below SA, in part due to the country’s continued showcasing of one “of the more technologically advanced militaries, backed by a mature local industry”.

Guy Martin of Defenceweb said the report needed to be taken with a pinch of salt.

“There are so many variables, such as combat experience, training, logistics and foreign support. If we had to take on Syria we would be absolutely demolished,” he said. “I don’t trust the metrics of the report.”

Darren Olivier of African Defence Review noted that the problem with any military ranking was the methodology was highly contested.

“Global Firepower uses what they call the PowerIndex score, which prioritises forces which are technically advanced, more coherent in terms of current operations and combined force operations, and have the full thread of capabilities,” he said.

“So, the SANDF scores well because, even though operationally it is suffering, it has everything in place to be an advanced hi-tech and exceptional force.”

On paper, the SANDF had an “exceptionally” good combined armed force, comprising of army, navy, air force and the medical health service.

“The problem of course, is how well can you bring this to bear? The SANDF has been suffering for many years from under-funding.”

SA’s actual operational strength was growing steadily worse, Olivier said.

“It’s very clear the current status is terrible. With a few months and intensive effort and funding, things could be turned around quite a lot.

“With a few years and good funding, it would get a lot better, so it’s not all lost and terrible. But as things stand now, and if we had to go to war tomorrow, it would be impossible.”

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