Michael Kuper, SC, for the defence department, led the chief of naval staff in submitting evidence at the commission in Pretoria.
“I want you to assume that the navy receives a letter from Cabinet saying it has been decided to cancel the package which involves the corvettes and the submarines,” Kuper said.
“Would you tell the commission what the effect of that would be on the navy’s ability to perform its constitutional mandate?”
Higgs replied: “If the navy was asked to do that, it would virtually shut down the navy’s ability to meet its constitutional mandate. With (the remaining) old vessels we would be exceedingly limited.”
Initiating an arbitration process against the suppliers of the high-tech equipment would also impede the armed forces, he said. Through that arbitration process, Kuper suggested, the equipment would lie unused.
“Corrosion would have set in and to bring them back into service again it would be very expensive. The frigates would lie in the sea and rot,” he said.
In such a scenario, training within the navy would also have to shut down. Earlier, Higgs told the commission the SA Navy was not adequately equipped, despite benefiting from the multi-billion rand arms deal. He said more vessels should be added to the national fleet, which currently included four frigates and three submarines.
“In my judgment, the SA Navy needs more. It is often much better and cost-effective to buy new. The best deal for us would be to build local as [much] as possible. That would help stimulate the economy.
“I would say that [the current fleet] is exceedingly modest… Yes, we do need more.”
Higgs said navy ships were not primarily used for war, and had been deployed in several humanitarian missions, raising South Africa’s international relations profile. Higgs concluded his testimony on Thursday.
On Friday, the evidence leading team would question Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz, also of the SA Navy. Evidence leader Simmy Lebala said Schoultz’s testimony, in some instances, might border on “some sensitive confidentiality”.
“For the sake of getting going, when we get there we will have to apply our minds,” cautioned Lebala.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 arms deal.