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article imageSouth African Navy Showcases ‘Cutting Edge’ Ship Special

By Christopher Szabo     Jul 13, 2009 in World
The South African Navy has given a “Capability Demonstration” on board one of its newly acquired warships, the frigate SAS Amatola. The sea trip was offered to potential employers of SA Navy reserves, potential recruits to the navy and the media.
I was invited as the accredited reporter for Digital Journal, and following a two-hour flight on board a South African Air Force (SAAF) C-130 Hercules troop carrier and a short bus ride, I saw at first hand what a real warship looked like.
The SAS Amatola, is one of four of the new Valour class frigates bought a few years ago as part of the controversial “Arms Deal,” properly known as the Strategic Defence Package, aimed at upgrading the ageing equipment of the country’s military.
The technical specifications of the ship, built in Germany with some sections adapted or built locally, are impressive. The Navy claims they include the world’s first use of laser welding technology, the point of which is to save weight by cutting out “welding slag,” the unsightly blobs usually found around welded joints. Another first is the use of water jet propulsion in a major warship, as well as the use of the X-form hull. This gives the ships a smaller radar “profile” and is a type of stealth technology.
The name “Amatola” comes from a mountain range in the Eastern Cape province where Xhosa Chief Maqoma fought against Sir George Cathcart’s British forces in the 1850s.
South African Air Force C-130 Hercules
South African Air Force C-130 Hercules
Christopher Szabo
An interesting aspect of the Valour class names is that they are the result of a competition within the Navy that reflect little-known people and events in the country’s history before 1945.
We were informed that this “Captains of Industry” visit had the largest number of high-ranking naval officers for such a visit ever, and I can well believe it. There were rear admirals, naval captains, and commanders, along with the man they referred to simply as “C Navy.” This was Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe Johannes Mudimu. Speaking of the new frigates, Mudimu said:
Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu  Chief of SA Navy
Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, Chief of SA Navy
Christopher Szabo
The Amatola has been everywhere … (Ships of the Valour class)… have visited Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil. The Mendi herself participated in the 200th celebration of the Brazilian navy, SAS Spioenkop has been to China, went to Vietnam, India, Singapore and Malaysia. So all the four frigates have been tested in these long voyages.
The Chief Director of Maritime Strategy, (CDMS) Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, proudly described the skills of a young submariner. He added:
This competence and professionalism has been recognised not only by our own country, but perhaps more importantly, by all the navies across the world.
The CDMS added:
I am exceptionally proud of the compliments that we have received on the achievements of this navy, whether it was the classification of our submarines according to Germanischer Lloyd standards or whether Chief Gary Roughead said … that this navy, for its size, equals anything that he’s got, and remember, he runs aircraft carriers.
Teuteberg was referring to U.S. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gary Roughead, who recently paid a visit to South Africa. Referring to the hardware, he said:
Our ships and submarines comprise some of the finest technologies in the world. Truly cutting-edge. They are able to hold their own amongst the best in the maritime (community.)
The guests sat in the ship’s helicopter hangar. The frigates operate a Super Lynx helicopter on missions, but it was removed to make room for us both in the hangar and on the flight deck.
Then the SAS Amatola, turned around by the tug Mkhuze, got underway and turned north. What was striking was the large number of heavy ships steaming out of Durban’s port. The reason a navy is needed became self-evident.
Spray Risis During the Crash Stop
The photo is from 01 deck looking onto the flight deck.
Christopher Szabo
After allowing the guests some time to get their sea legs, the alarm was sounded and the ship brought to a crash stop, used in avoided collisions at sea. This is done by reversing the thrust of the jet propulsion system and threw up a huge spray wave. We were told the ship would stop within one and a half ship lengths. I had no way of checking, but we did appear to stop quickly and I felt no equivalent of stepping hard on a car’s brakes.
The next exercise was very interesting and I climbed to “01 Deck” to observe and photograph it. The SAS Galeshewe, named after a chief who led a revolt against British colonial rule in the Northern Cape province.
SAS Galeshewe is one of the “Warrior” class surface ships, which was part of the Apartheid-era navy. It was designed in Israel and built in great secrecy due to the international arms embargo on South Africa. Known as a “Strike Craft,” it is also referred to as an Offshore Patrol vessel. One of the officers told us that Galeshewe was the first SA Navy ship to be captained by a woman, Commander Maria Clulee.
The Galeshewe came around to the stern of Amatola to demonstrate ship-to-ship replenishment, in this case, I was told by a senior Warrant Officer, replenishment of fuel. The general idea is to lead a rope across, then a thicker one, and eventually the fuel line. SAS Galeshewe, like Amatola, is a veteran of many overseas postings, including a spectacular joint operation off the Australian coast that ended with the capture of a poaching trawler during Operation LARIAT.
SAS Galeshewe s Crew Take the Line
SAS Galeshewe's Crew Take the Line
Christopher Szabo
During the tour of the ship I visited the truly impressive Operations Room with its Electronic Warfare section. As we were shown the different types of radar and sonar, I recognised one type of screen. I told the Warrant Officer in charge that it looked like a weather radar. He agreed, explaining that they controlled the helicopter landing from there. In effect, a mini airport control tower. Incidentally, Operations was the only space we were not allowed to take photos.
Our group was not allowed to go on the bridge, because we were returning to port and the pilot was on board. Instead we were shown the missile deck. This houses eight French-built Exocet anti-ship missiles. The business end of the warship, as it were.
A young lieutenant pointed out that flags are still in use. On this modern ship, less than 10 years old, the centuries’ old practice of signal flags still persists. I found this fascinating. The flags include letters that form the call sign for the ship, and another showed that the pilot was aboard.
Exocet Missiles on the Missile Deck
Exocet Missiles on the Missile Deck
Christopher Szabo
After we had pulled “alongside,” I asked the lieutenant to show me the bridge, which he did. The size of the “tiller” was somewhat disappointing, being more reminiscent of a video game than the big wooden wheels I’d thought of, but it was all very shipshape. We took in the bridge wing, and looked down on the foredeck. This houses the 76 millimetre anti-ship gun and the Umkhonto (Spear) Surface to Air (SAM) missile positions.
Bridge of the SAS Amatola
Bridge of the SAS Amatola
Christopher Szabo
Guests were then divided into two groups, school children and their minders on the SAS Amatola, and the rest of us to sister ship SAS Mendi for a light lunch. The Mendi is named for SS Mendi, a troopship of WWI that was rammed by another British ship and sank in the English Channel, claiming the lives of 800 troops of the South African Native Labour Corps.
My overall impression was one of a highly professional, very proud service. Not only did they appear professional, but were mostly representative of the New South Africa, with the unavoidable exception of the older officers. As for the rank and file, they were from all backgrounds, colours and creeds and it was a joy to see them literally “pulling together.”
The Foredeck of the SAS Amatola
The Foredeck of the SAS Amatola
Christopher Szabo
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