Thursday, December 13, 2018
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Mixed bag at AAD 2014

This year’s edition of Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) was move varied in terms of participation, with South African exhibitors appearing to outshine their foreign counterparts.

Compared to AAD 2012, 2014 was noticeably lighter regarding foreign exhibitors’ physical presence. All the big players (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus etc.) attended the September 17-21 exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof, but there were no aircraft or vehicles brought out specifically for the show as there was in 2012 and previous editions, and there were generally more models on display than real items of equipment. For example, in 2012 Saab flew their 340 MSA to Pretoria for AAD and Alenia their C-27J Spartan but this year they were only there on paper.

This trend was also evident during the air show days over the weekend, which were spectacular nevertheless, especially with the newly formed Hawk aerobatic display team. Some of the highlights included Mango and Kulula flypasts, Gripen, Vampire and Cheetah fast jets, an anti-poaching demonstration, mini-war and amazing helicopter displays by Dennis Kenyon. However, some show-goers were disappointed by the lack of foreign military aircraft flying – in 2012 the C-27J and Zimbabwe Air Force K-8 put on impressive displays for the crowds. This year the US Air Force brought military aircraft (C-17, C-130J) but these remained on static display.

It seems the main reason for the somewhat lacklustre foreign presence is the malnourished local defence market and the long wait for orders from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). On paper, South Africa is acquiring tens of billions of rands worth of new military equipment in various projects such as Biro (offshore/inshore patrol vessels), Metsi/Kiepie (maritime patrol/light transport aircraft), Hotel (hydrographic vessel), Sepula and Vistula (armoured vehicles and trucks). Many of these projects, particularly Biro and Saucepan (as the maritime surveillance project was called), attracted many foreign companies to AAD 2012. However, South African National Defence Force programmes appear to take a long time to reach fruition – the decade taken by the Badger infantry fighting vehicle is one example.

Overall the international presence at this year’s exhibition was somewhat light, but nevertheless, even with an extra hangar, exhibition space at AAD 2014 was sold out, with 40 companies being turned away due to a lack of space.

South African aerospace, maritime, vehicle and defence companies stole most of the limelight at AAD 2014. Paramount, as usual, outdid itself, launching new unmanned aerial vehicles, signing a cooperation agreement with Boeing and formalising their recent acquisitions of Aerosud Aerospace Systems and Veecraft Marine. Their nine metre high Parabot was a major crowd pleaser, probably being the most photographed item at AFB Waterkloof. Another highlight was the exhibition debut of the AHRLAC, which flew into the base during the opening ceremony on 17 September.

Not to be outdone, Denel had a strong presence as well, launching a new light turret, unveiling the design for a new regional aircraft (SARA), announcing the establishment of an aviation training centre and displaying its wide range of equipment on offer, from the new Seeker 400 to the Marlin missile.

Other South African companies were eager to show off their new products and services, such as Wagtail Aviation with its new autogyros, S-Plane with its UAV control systems, Megaray with upgraded spotlights, Safomar with a variety of helicopters, the CSIR with a new airborne testing pod, Tellumat with UAV control units, Rippel Effect with its new less lethal grenade launcher etc.

A fair number of new landward defence products were unveiled at AAD 2014, such as the BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa RG21 protected vehicle, DCD Protected Mobility Oribi utility truck and Testudo unmanned ground vehicle, Windhoeker Maschinenfabrik Werewolf Mk III armoured personnel carrier and B-Cat’s unmanned ground vehicle. Osprea Logistics displayed two versions of its Mamba Mk 5 while LMT had its new Phoenix and Trojan armoured vehicles on display.

When opening AAD 2014, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she anticipated nearly 50 000 trade visitors to attend the exhibition. However, most exhibitors who spoke to defenceWeb agreed that this year was quieter in terms of numbers, but many said they were impressed by the quality of foreign military delegations attending the show. At the time of publication, no final attendance figures had been released by the South African Aerospace Maritime and Defence (AMD) industry association, which was tasked with organising AAD 2014.

AMD came under fire for some aspects of poor organisation, such as delays in approving accreditation, an almost empty media centre. Some exhibitors were placed in the half-empty media centre hangar, which meant that almost no-one passed through – one exhibitor in the hangar told defenceWeb that only four people came to his stand on day one of the show. In comparison, thousands walked through the Denel and Paramount hangar every day.

Overall, AAD again reinforced the fact that the local defence market is a tough place to do business in, with the SANDF struggling to find the funding it needs to replace ageing equipment. Although the Defence Review offers much hope, it is taking a long time to be approved. Previously the 2012 Defence Review, it has been renamed the 2014 Defence Review to reflect the long road to fruition. Faced with the slowly turning wheels of government and limited budgets at home, AAD again reflected how local companies are courting foreign clients and being forced to turn outside South Africa’s borders for survival.

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