Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Revolution in Military Affairs in South African Defence Policy

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Revolution in Military Affairs in South African Defence Policy

Article excerpt


The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is increasingly informing military modernisation around the world. Despite the absence of an overarching RMA-based plan in South Africa, there are incidences where elements of the RMA have been taken up in defence thinking and practice. Although unsaid in policy, it is assumed that the South African National Defence Force has to incorporate RMA concepts in its organisation if it aspires to be a modern, technologically advance defence force.


This article works within a conventional rationalist discourse of defence policy-making to identify how the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), an American inspired high-tech approach to defence modernisation, has impacted on South African defence policy. Such a framework lays claim to sound policy through rational assessment of threats and capabilities. Security threats, in this view, are objectively observable phenomena, which security actors can identify. Responses are plans of action to deal with threats. Policy-makers select the appropriate response by objectively judging the most effective action in a certain historical, economic, political and technological context. (1) The article thus takes a limited question--has the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) been adopting elements of the RMA since 1994?--and shows that it has and in what ways. The inquiry addresses several subordinate questions as well. Do defence policy-makers in South Africa know about the IRMA? What do they think about the IRMA? How do they see the IRMA fit into their response to insecurity? Which elements of the IRMA are they applying? How is their perspective about the IRMA expressed in the way that they organise and prepare for the defence function?


Since the Second World War, military and technological developments in the United States (US) sowed the seeds for what in the 1990s became known as the Revolution in Military Affairs, commonly referred to in military circles as the RMA. The term IRMA has since been replaced in US vernacular by the term 'transformation'. Transformation, according to one of its biggest proponents in the US, Adm Cebrowski, can be regarded as the Thermidor phase of the IRMA. (2) The two terms are thus not only linked but on closer inspection ultimately represent the pursuit of similar changes in military organisation and technology. Hence the term IRMA is preferred.

In its current form the IRMA involves the incorporation of information technology in military organisation and tactics. These technologies are said to vastly improve information exchange between forces, providing the ability to network different command structures. Enhancing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, precision targeting, force mobility and logistics, the IRMA promises to lift 'the fog of war' or significantly contribute to this aim. Conceptualisations of this model go beyond existing technology, though, to generate a culture of innovation that would drive technological advances for future applications in war.

As a model for effective defence, the IRMA has not been accepted unequivocally. Arguments aimed at tempering enthusiasm for the IRMA centre around three issues, namely whether the changes in military affairs are really of a revolutionary order or just an evolutionary order; the applicability of the IRMA to the type of warfare that has characterised the world since the Second World War (intra-state wars, terrorism); and the extent to which countries other than the US can adopt the IRMA as a model for their own military modernisation. This article engages the last point and asks in particular how the RMA might inform security perceptions and practice in post-apartheid South Africa?

Embarking on an assessment of the RMA in the context of an African country may raise objections on the grounds of applicability. …

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