Friday, October 24, 2014
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MLS scores in China

Mobile Land Systems (MLS), a South African armoured vehicle manufacturer established last year, says it has a contract worth R40 million to manufacture 11 mine-resistant armour protected (MRAP) vehicles in conjunction with a Chinese company associated with the People's Liberation Army and transfer know-how to the east-Asian giant.

MLS CE Dewald Hattingh says indications are that China may need as many as 10 000 MRAP vehicles to cover their internal needs and equip peacekeeping missions. The PLA is the largest military in the world mustering some three million soldiers, sailors and airmen, of whom some 2.5 million are in full-time service. It is said to operate over 8500 main battle tanks but just over 1000 infantry combat vehicles and 3500 armoured personnel carrier of various designs – and none mine protected.

Hattingh says he was invited by Poly Technologies to talks on the fringes of the DSEi defence exhibition in London in September last year. “After negotiations and a formulated RfP [request for proposal], we drafted a MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] on the 14th of September 2009 in London. I changed the design to accommodate the special requests for China and after a few visits to Beijing and the Chinese industry, the design was signed off,” Hattingh says.

Poly Technologies decided on Changan Industries, a major manufacturer of vehicles and ammunition in China, as MLS' Chinese manufacturing partner. Eight engineers visited South Africa in the first quarter of the year and some changes were made to the design and finally signed off. During this visit of three weeks, two hulls were build and the process demonstrated to the visiting engineers.

MLS next sent a prototype hull and component parts to Changan's Chong Qing facility and a team consisting of three South African engineers led by Tos Visser followed to assemble and transfer skills to their Chinese counterparts. The South Africans stayed for six weeks. Andre van Eeden chief designer at MLS partner Laser Sprint also visited China for a week to oversee aspects of the the process. “The first prototype vehicle was a huge success and a major achievement if one takes the distances and language barriers into consideration,” Hattingh says.

Hattingh notes Poly Technologies will be sending more engineers to be trained in the MRAP manufacturing process. Nine more vehicles will be part-manufactured in South Africa under the contract and exported to China in kit form for assembly there. Changan will take over manufacture at that point and is licenced to build 289 more vehicles. “We are committed to give close support and quality control assistance to secure our royalties,” Hattingh says. After that intellectual property will be handed over to Changan against a fee. “Our commitment is to assist with transfering of skills, providing parts and constant support for the project.”

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