G5s to DRC?
Since the outbreak of fighting in August, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) has been relatively quiet in the Eastern DRC. Likewise the M23, who since being pushed from Kibati Heights and surrounds by a combined FIB/FARDC has been silent, barring the odd tweet from their social media accounts. Nonetheless, it has been a quiet month since the battle near Kibati.
But recent reports of G5 155mm artillery guns being moved from Potchefstroom, where most South African Defence Force Artillery is based, to Pretoria raises eyebrows at a possible injection of added firepower into the FIB. Movement to Pretoria could mean everything from routine inspections/maintenance to an exercise nearby, but it could also indicate an intention to deploy a battery of the powerful systems into the DRC from nearby airforce bases (AFB Waterkloof, for example is based near Pretoria).
Although the Tanzanian contingent in the FIB includes an artillery unit, their equipment is limited in range and capability. This is in no way a reflection on the gunners operating the systems, however, as their value was proven almost immediately following their deployment. Rather, the potential use of G5 artillery pieces gives the FIB a considerably-larger area which can be covered by artillery fire. The Tanzanian D-30 artillery systems are Eastern Bloc-era guns capable of just 15km effective range. This means that the use of South African G5s, with an effective range of 39km using standard ammunition (or longer with rocket-assisted shells) greatly increases the range in which accurate shelling can be brought upon rebel forces. As FIB forces go deeper into rebel territory outside of Goma, the extended range of South African artillery which can support troops as they progress further away from their bases.
While obviously beneficial in the fight against M23, it will also enable FIB forces to attack other rebel organisations who are present in the Eastern DRC. The FDLR, for example, is a key rebel organisation that has not enjoyed as much recent press coverage but remains a serious threat to regional stability nonetheless. Having the ability to project firepower far beyond current lines is precisely what deploying G5s anywhere near the FIB bases at Munigi, Sake or Goma will achieve.
On a broader strategic level, this deployment would highlight the increasing seriousness by the United Nations on the insecurity in the DRC. With the Kampala talks in a quagmire, using military means to create the basis for a political dialogue is looking to be a viable option. The use of artillery is a significant departure from the light infantry role most peace keeping deployments generally take, and even for a peace enforcement operation such as this, the possible addition of South African G5s to existing Tanzanian artillery shows not only the intention of the FIB in the Eastern DRC, but also the seriousness with which the UN is taking this operation.