The South African Army has reintroduced specialists to its Infantry Formation, including motorcycle, horse-mounted, dog handling platoons, as well as trackers, the types of units that gained fame during the Bush War.
Lieutenant Colonel Dawid Oss is project leader for the re-establishment of the specialist capability within the infantry. With the withdrawal of the Army from the country’s borders, the work was given to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the government of President Thabo Mbeki allowed almost limitless immigration into the country, a policy which proved disastrous. It was followed by vast numbers of illegal immigrants flooding South Africa and a rise in crimes involving human trafficking and poaching.
Now that the Army is returning to the borders under Operation Corona, cross-border poaching and cattle theft, for example, have already dropped. Oss told Digital Journal:
“We started three months back. Currently, the motorcycle company is already in place, the dog platoon is already in place and the horse platoon is also in place, and also a couple of the visual trackers.”
He said the units would be deployed to the town of Musina, on the border with Zimbabwe. He said they would only deploy two groups at first. The army will deploy:
“The motorcycles and the dog capability. Since the environment doesn’t need the horses, we are not going to use the horses on the short term. The horses are going to be deployed from next year, March. So I can say the capability is resuscitated.”
Colonel Raymond van Zanten spoke about Project Warrior, aimed at upgrading the infantry’s equipment. He spoke about the R4 automatic rifle, which is a licence-built version of the Israeli Galil rifle. Van Zanten said:
“The R4 is our standard assault rifle. It’s been with us since the mid-70s; a very reliable and successful weapon. However, to keep in pace with the rest of the world there are quite a few modifications that we are making.”
The Colonel explained there were three sub-types, the Standard Rifleman, the Marksman rifle and the Grenadier:
“On the Marksman rifle we’ll be putting a four-power telescopic sight, different handrails and a telescoping butt which is adjustable to make it fit a lot of our lady soldiers who are a lot smaller. They have a problem with the butt on the R4s. It will be a telescoping collapsible butt.”
Of the coming Marksman version, he said:
“These will be issued to the designated marksman within a section and will give them a better capability out to 600 metres with the R4.”
(A Section is usually 16 soldiers, or half a platoon, equivalent to an American squad)
“The Grenadier will be a bottom-slung 40mm grenade attached to the R4 rifle. The Standard Infantry Rifle will have a reflex sight once again giving the Infanteer a better capability of seeing the target and operating with both eyes open. Added to this will be the bayonet which is coming back.”
The modifications were expected to take the infantry rifle through the next 10 to 15 years, at which time the Army would look at purchasing or designing an entirely new generation of assault rifle.