South African Defense Force
SADF Emblem (SWM)
Founded 1957
Country Old South Africa flag South Africa
Type Armed forces
Size 150,000 active personnel
Headquarters Pretoria, Transvaal
Commander in Chief State President J.D. Grobler
Minister of Defense Harry Raath
Chief of the Defense Force General Petrus Marais

The South African Defense Force (SADF) is the military of the Republic of South Africa which succeeded the Union Defense Force (UDF) in 1957, shortly before South Africa became a republic. The Defense Act (44 of 1957) established the SADF and continues to serve as its primary legislative framework. The primary role of the Defense Force is dualistic - it must firstly serve as a conventional military force to defend the Republic, its territory and interests; and must secondly act as a counterinsurgency force, which is usually in support of the Security Branch. The Defense Force and the Security Branch complement one another in the overall national security of South Africa and are usually considered to be entwined in terms of functions, staff and role.

The Defense Force consists of three environmental commands, namely the Army (SAR), the Navy (SAN) and the Air Force (SAAF), and one special command in the form of the Medical Service (SAMS). The Army is by a wide margin the largest branch of the military, followed by the Air Force, Navy and Medical Service, in that order. The entire military falls under the command of the State President in his role as the Commander in Chief. It is further administrated by a civilian Minister of Defense who is responsible for policy, and a military Chief of the Defense Force, who is appointed by the State President on advice from the Minister. The SADF is the largest and defining component of the Department of Defense (DOD). With State President J.D. Grobler's government reforms, it has been widely suggested that he may have the SADF absorb the entirety of and substitute the Defense Department.

South Africa has one of the highest military expenditures in Africa, amounting to over 6 percent of the gross domestic product. This is due to South Africa's political and economic isolation from the international community. Much of the Defense Force's equipment is manufactured locally, with the Consolidated Armaments Company (CONARMS) being the largest domestic supplier. South Africa boasts having the continent's most powerful military according to a 2014 study, followed closely by Egypt. The Defense Force ranks eleventh in the world according to the Global Firepower's military strength index.

Because the Defense Force primarily (with exceptions) only recruits white South Africans, it suffers from a severe lack of manpower, and has since the Border War begun relying heavily on "quality over quantity" as its military doctrine. Part of this doctrine is the complete avoidance of battlefield casualties, even if it would mean failing an objective. Analysts agree that this dedication to preserving its manpower (due to the small white population) and its equipment (due to the embargoes) has made the SADF a near completely self-relying and independent force. The SADF employs slightly over 150,000 active combatant personnel in what is known as the Regular Force (RF). Conscription (known as 'national service') is legal and applies to males aged 18 to 20, but is currently inactive. The Citizen Force (CF) is the reserve component of the SADF and relies upon persons who have completed their national service.


Syrian Civil War and ISIS insurgency

South Africa itself is among the world's 50 largest oil producing countries. Nearly all of it is produced for domestic consumption due to the various United Nations-backed embargoes being enforced against the country due to its Apartheid policies. However, South African oil production is barely enough to feed the domestic economy. It was in this context that in August 2014 Minister of Defense Harry Raath commissioned the General Staff to prepare a report for the State Security Council - and ultimately, the State President - outlining a possible South African intervention in the Syrian Civil War. The General Staff were not informed of the political motivation for the report, i.e. that South Africa hoped to exchange military support for discounted oil exports from Syria in violation of the oil embargo; rather, the military was to consider the feasibility of such an operation in pure martial terms. A further political motive for such an intervention was to start gradually compelling the international community to abandon its anti-South Africa policies.

Raath had decided to commission the report in the wake of the involvement of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Syrian Civil War. According to Defense Department analysts ISIS was making huge gains in Syrian territory which caught the already thinly-stretched government forces off guard. With the Syrian military fighting a war on three fronts, against rebels, ISIS, and the Kurds, there was potentially room for South Africa to gain a strategic ally.

Colonel Anton Steenhuizen of the SA Army was chosen by the General Staff to lead the task team in compiling such a report. A veteran of the Border War and a student of Major General (Ret.) Roland de Vries (who became internationally renowned for his pioneering work in mobile warfare), Steenhuizen set about determining whether South African soldiers would be able to operate in the Syrian environment. The logistics of getting troops from South Africa to Syria, bearing in mind the restricted air travel over Africa, was also to be considered. Finally, the Department of Finance was also to lend its assistance to Steenhuizen to determine whether it would be financially possible for South Africa to get involved.

The half-desert and desert environments of South Africa's northwest - where Army Battle School, Lohatla is located - it was concluded, was close enough to the Syrian environment that soldiers would not be hard pressed to adapt quickly. Analysts warned, however, that South Africa's close relationship with Israel - an occasional enemy of Syria - may pose problems for South African involvement on the Syrian government's side. Getting the troops to Syria would pose a further problem as neither the Air Force nor the Navy had the capacity to ferry large amounts of equipment and soldiers over such a distance. Furthermore, most African nations forbade South African aircraft from entering into their airspace.

The report was released to the SSC in mid-September 2014, concluding that intervention was possible, but would be an unprecedented challenge for the Defense Force. The rewards from an intervention, however, potentially outweighed these costs. South Africa could gain sustainable access to oil, it would cement South Africa's status as an international force worthy of respect, and it could set a precedent for nations to consider South Africa as a possible ally instead of a default enemy.


General Staff

Flag of the SADF General Staff

The General Staff flag.

The Defense Force General Staff is the military staff of the Defense Force, comparable to the United States' Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is the central and supreme military organ and is responsible for the planning, the command and the control of the Defense Force. The General Staff is led by the Chief of the Defense Force, currently Army General Petrus Marais. The Chief is the military administrative head of the Defense Force during times of peace and assumes full operational command second only to the State President during times of war, and also acts as the principal military advisor to the Minister and the State President.

  • Chief of the Defense Force - Gen. Petrus Marais
  • Inspector General - Lt.Gen. James Muller
  • Judge Advocate General - V.Adm. Jacobus Smith
  • Chief of Special Operations - Gen. Clive Ferreira
  • Environmental commands
    • Chief of the Army - Gen. Adriaan Prinsloo
    • Chief of the Navy - Adm. Peet van den Berg
    • Chief of the Air Force - Gen. Francois Harris
  • Special commands
    • Chief of the Medical Service - Lt.Gen. Mico Mostert (Surgeon General)
  • Support services
    • Chief of Staff for Personnel and Finance - Lt.Gen. Albertus de Kock
    • Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics - Lt.Gen. Stian Roodt
    • Chaplain General - Brig.Gen. (Rev.) George Fraser

Commands, formations and units

  • Joint formations
    • Headquarters, SA Defense Force
      • Chief of the Defense Force
      • Inspector General
      • Judge Advocate General
      • Chief of Special Operations
      • Staff Office
    • Regional commands (Citizen Force, territorial guard, etc.)
      • Transvaal Regional Command
        • Pretoria Armored Regiment
        • Pretoria Highlanders Regiment (artillery)
        • 18 Light Regiment (airborne infantry)
        • Transvaal State Artillery
        • Northern Transvaal Mechanized Infantry Regiment
        • Johannesburg Regiment (infantry)
        • Transvaal Scottish Regiment (infantry)
        • South African Irish Regiment (infantry)
        • Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment (mechanized infantry)
        • Transvaal Horse Artillery
        • Light Horse Regiment (armored)
        • East Rand Regiment (infantry)
        • Paul Kruger Regiment (West Rand Regiment) (infantry)
        • Rand Light Infantry
        • Botha Regiment (infantry)
        • Christiaan Beyers Regiment (infantry)
        • De la Rey Regiment (mechanized infantry)
        • Orange River Armored Regiment
        • Skoonspruit Regiment (infantry)
        • Piet Retief Infantry Regiment
        • Potchefstroom University Regiment (artillery)
      • Cape Regional Command
        • Western Province Mechanized Infantry Regiment
        • Cape Town Highlanders Regiment (mechanized infantry)
        • Cape Town Rifles (infantry)
        • Cape Field Artillery
        • Kimberley Infantry Regiment
        • Kaffrarian Rifles (infantry)
        • Prince Alfred's Guard (infantry)
        • First City Regiment (airborne infantry)
      • Orange Free State Regional Command
        • President Steyn Armored Regiment
        • Free State Artillery Regiment
        • Bloemspruit Infantry Regiment
      • Natal Regional Command
        • Durban Regiment (infantry)
        • Durban Light Infantry (mechanized infantry)
        • Natal Field Artillery
        • Natal Carbineers Regiment (infantry)
        • Natal Mounted Rifles (armored)
        • Mooirivier Armored Regiment
        • Umvoti Mounted Rifles (armored)
      • South West African Territorial Force (SWATF)
        • 31 Battalion (infantry)
        • 33 Battalion (infantry)
        • 34 Battalion (infantry)
        • 36 Battalion (infantry)
        • 37 Battalion (infantry)
        • 101 Battalion (mechanized infantry)
        • 911 Battalion (infantry)
        • 61 Brigade (mechanized infantry)
        • Logistics Brigade
  • South African Army (SAR)
    • Headquarters, SA Army
      • Chief of the Army
    • SA Military Police Corps
    • SA Army Intelligence Corps
    • SA Army Training Command
      • SA Military Academy
      • SA Army College
      • SA Army Battle School
      • SA School of Artillery
    • Conventional units
      • South African Armored Corps
      • 7 South African Infantry Division
        • 7 Combat Reconnaissance Battalion
        • 6 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
        • 10 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
        • 9 Artillery Battalion
        • 14 Artillery Battalion
        • 4 Engineer Group Battalion
        • 1 Tank Battalion
        • 7 Tank Battalion
        • 71 Mechanized Battalion
        • 82 Mechanized Battalion
      • 9 Division
        • 3 South African Infantry Battalion
        • 4 Artillery Battalion
        • 7 Artillery Battalion
      • 10 Division
        • 9 South African Infantry Battalion
        • 7 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
        • 11 Artillery Battalion
        • 16 Artillery Battalion
        • 19 Artillery Battalion
      • 44 Parachute Brigade
        • 14 Parachute Battalion
        • 44 Anti-Aircraft Regiment
      • 61 Mechanized Infantry Brigade
      • 1 South African Infantry Battalion (mechanized infantry)
      • 2 South African Infantry Battalion
      • 4 South African Infantry Battalion
      • 5 South African Infantry Battalion
      • 6 South African Infantry Battalion (airborne infantry)
      • 8 South African Infantry Battalion (mechanized infantry)
      • 21 South African Infantry Battalion
      • 1 Parachute Battalion (airborne infantry)
    • Special units
      • 32 Battalion (counterinsurgency infantry)
      • 1 Reconnaissance Commando (special forces)
      • 2 Reconnaissance Regiment (special forces)
      • 5 Reconnaissance Regiment (special forces)
  • South African Air Force (SAAF)
    • Headquarters, SA Air Force
      • Chief of the Air Force
    • SA Air Force Mobile Radar Unit
    • SA Air Force Training Command
      • SA Air Force Central Flying School
      • SA Air Force Air Navigation School
      • SA Air Force Combat Flying School
      • SA Air Force Helicopter Flying School
      • SA Air Force Academy
    • Fighter squadrons
      • 1 Squadron (Mirage F1AZ)
      • 2 Squadron (Cheetah C and Cheetah D)
      • 3 Squadron (Mirage F1CZ)
      • 5 Squadron (Impala Mk.II and Cheetah E) - training squadron
      • 10 Squadron (aerobatic display team) (Impala Mk.I)
    • Helicopter squadrons
      • 15 Squadron (Super Frelon and Oryx)
      • 16 Squadron (Rooivalk)
      • 17 Squadron (Oryx)
      • 19 Squadron (Oryx)
      • 22 Squadron (Oryx and Alouette III) - training squadron
      • 30 Squadron (Super Frelon and Oryx)
    • Airlift squadrons
      • 21 Squadron (Falcon 50, Falcon 900 and Citation II)
      • 25 Squadron (C-47 Skytrain)
      • 28 Squadron (Transall C-160 and C-130 Hercules)
      • 35 Squadron (C-47 Skytrain)
      • 60 Squadron (Boeing 707)
    • Light reconnaissance squadron
      • 11 Squadron (Cessna 185)
    • Reserve squadrons
      • 4 Squadron (Impala Mk.I)
      • 6 Squadron (Impala Mk.I)
      • 7 Squadron (Impala Mk.I)
      • 8 Squadron (Impala Mk.I)
      • 12 Squadron (Canberra)
      • 18 Squadron (Alouette III)
      • 24 Squadron (Buccaneer)
      • 31 Squadron (Alouette III)
      • 40 Squadron (Impala Mk.I)
      • 41 Squadron (Bosbok and Kudu)
      • 42 Squadron (Bosbok and Kudu)
  • South African Navy (SAN)
    • Headquarters, SA Navy
      • Chief of the Navy
    • SA Naval Training Command
      • SA Naval College
      • SA Naval Staff College
    • Naval Command West
      • 1 Amphibious Infantry Battalion (marines)
      • Individual vessels
    • Naval Command East
      • 2 Amphibious Infantry Battalion (marines)
      • Individual vessels
    • SA Naval Intelligence Corps
  • South African Medical Service (SAMS)
    • Headquarters, SA Medical Service
      • Chief of the Medical Service (Surgeon General)
    • SA Medical Service Training Command
      • SA Military Medical Institute
      • SA Medical Training Center
      • SA Medical Service Nursing College
      • SA Military Veterinary Institute
    • Active units
      • 7 Medical Battalion Group (airborne and special forces)
      • 8 Medical Battalion Group
      • 11 Medical Battalion Group (on civilian duty, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS)
    • Reserve units
      • 1 Medical Battalion Group
      • 3 Medical Battalion Group
      • 6 Medical Battalion Group

Installations and facilities

  • Joint Defense Headquarters Pretoria (JDHQ Pretoria)
  • Joint Military District Cape Town
    • Naval Base Simon's Town (Navy HQ)
    • Naval Station Simonsberg
    • Naval Station Wingfield
    • Naval College Gordon's Bay
    • Army Base Cape Town
    • Air Force Base Ysterplaat
    • 2 Military Hospital (2Mil)
  • Joint Military District Bloemfontein (JMD Bloemfontein)
    • Army Base Bloemfontein
    • 3 Military Hospital (3Mil)
    • Air Force Base Bloemfontein
    • Test Range Airfield Vastrap
  • Joint Military District Port Elizabeth (JMD Port Elizabeth)
    • Naval Base Port Elizabeth
    • Army Base Port Elizabeth
    • Air Force Base Port Elizabeth
  • Joint Military District Durban (JMD Durban)
    • Army Base Durban
    • Naval Base Durban
    • Air Force Base Durban
  • Joint Military District Saldanha (JMD Saldanha)
    • South African Military Academy, Saldanha
    • Naval Base Saldanha
  • Consolidated Military District South West Africa (CMD South West Africa)
    • Army Base Windhoek, Oamities
    • Army Base Otjiwarongo
      • Army Battle School
    • Joint Base Oshivello
    • Air Force Base Gobabis
    • Air Force Base Keetmanshoop
    • Air Force Base Grootfontein
    • Army Base Tsumeb
    • Special Operations Camp Otjadachi (SOC Otjadachi)
    • Camp Ovati
    • Camp Tsintsabis
    • Joint Base Rooikop, Walvis Bay
    • Naval Base Walvis Bay
  • Army Base Kimberley
    • Army Battle School, Lohatla
  • Army Base Johannesburg
    • AB Johannesburg - Benoni
    • AB Johannesburg - Springs
    • AB Johannesburg - Heidelberg
    • AB Johannesburg - Germiston
    • AB Johannesburg - Vereeniging
  • Army Base Oudtshoorn
    • South African Infantry School
  • Air Force Base Overberg
    • Overberg Test Range
  • Joint Special Operations Camp Pretoria (JSOC Pretoria) (commonly known as Vlakplaas)
  • Joint Union Base Kimberley (JUB Kimberley)
  • Special Research Facility Advena
  • Special Resource Facility Pelindaba
  • Air Force Base Hoedspruit
  • Air Force Base Langebaanweg
  • Air Force Base Louis Trichardt
  • Army Base Grahamstown
  • Army Base Piet Retief
  • Army Base East London
  • Army Base Bethlehem
  • Army Base Kroonstad
  • Army Base Upington
  • Army Base Potchefstroom
  • Army Base Orkney
  • Army Base Zeerust
  • Army Base Pietermaritzburg
  • Army Base Matubatuba
  • Army Base Ladysmith
  • Army Base Middelburg
  • Army Base Ermelo
  • Army Base Pietersburg
  • Army Base Phalaborwa

  • Homelands (temp):
    • Army Base Umtata (Transkei)
    • Army Base Mafikeng (Bophuthatswana)
    • Army Base Thohoyandou (Venda)
    • Military Base Opuwo (Kaokoland)
    • Joint Base Omega (Kavangoland)
    • Air Force Base Rundu (Kavangoland)
    • Joint Base Bagani (Kavangoland)
    • Joint Base Oshakati (Ovamboland)
    • Joint Base Ondangwa (Ovamboland)
    • Air Force Base Omauni (Ovamboland)
    • Camp Outapi (Ovamboland)
    • Army Base Mahenene (Ovamboland)
    • Camp Elundu (Ovamboland)
    • Air Force Base Eenhana (Ovamboland)
    • Camp Ogongo (Ovamboland)
    • Special Operations Camp Etale (Ovamboland)
    • Camp Oshigambo (Ovamboland)
    • Air Force Base Ruacana (Ovamboland)


Conventional weaponry

Ground vehicles

  • Olifant main battle tank (MBT) - 253
  • Rooikat armored fighting vehicle (AFV) - 211
  • Ratel infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) - 863
  • Casspir Mk.II/III armored personnel carrier (APC) - 620
  • Casspir 2000 armored personnel carrier (APC) - 337
  • G5 howitzer - 61
  • G6 mobile artillery - 84
  • Valkiri 100 multiple rocket launcher (MRL) - 150
  • Denel AA1 anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) - 293
  • Denel AA2 anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) - 106
  • SAMIL transportation vehicles - several thousand
  • Mfezi armored ambulance - 201

Aerial vehicles



Naval vehicles

The South African Navy is a green-water navy, with its main flotilla consisting of 15 Warrior class strike craft. The decision to not procure or attempt to construct capital combat vessels was taken in the 1980s, when the SADF high command concluded that South Africa's main military threats lie not on the high seas or in the air, but to the north, on the African soil. Instead, the Navy upgrades and modernizes the existing fleet on a continuous basis, which it believes will be more cost effective. The Navy also operates a small fleet of older French submarines - the Daphne and Agosta classes respectively.

Nuclear weapons

South Africa is Africa's only nuclear power, having built its first deliverable bomb in 1982. The country built a further nine bombs between 1982 and 1988 under heavy secrecy. It was only in 2000 when the Department of Defense publicized that South Africa was actively developing nuclear weapons in the pursuit of national security goals. The RSA-4, developed and produced in cooperation with Israel, is South Africa's main intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) delivery system, akin to the Peacekeeper ICBM of the United States. The exact number of bombs and missiles South Africa possesses is unclear, however leaked files obtained by an anonymous CIA informant through WikiLeaks suggests the Defense Force has around 50 deliverable missile nuclear packages and around 100 bombs.

Nuclear weapons development in South Africa apparently takes place at Special Research Facility (SRF) Advena and SRF Pelindaba, both of which fall under the administration of the Air Force. The questions of whether or not South Africa has launch silos, and where it stores such ordnance are widely contested in international intelligence communities. Israel has been widely condemned for its continued assistance to South Africa's WMD ambitions.

Liberal and opposition members within the South African political arena have been active activists in pressuring the government for more transparency. The Progressive Party even established its own Nuclear Monitoring Task Force in 2002, which has since grown to include members from other political groups and civil society organizations. The Task Force has two offices: one in Pretoria near the Department of Defense's headquarters, and another in a small office near SRF Pelindaba, which used to be a holiday lodge. In 2009 the government granted the Task Force a limited tour through the nuclear research facility, as part of the Defense Department's transparency efforts.

See also