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Mixed performance for Armscor’s test ranges

Gerotek.Armscor’s Alkantpan weapons test range recorded an increase in sales in the last financial year while the Gerotek vehicle testing facility did not fare as well, according to an Armscor report.

The Alkantpan Test Range in the Northern Cape saw a significant increase in the number of tests in 2014/15, contributing to 39% increase in planned sales, Armscor said in its latest annual report, noting that international customers accounted for 65% of the R70.7 million sales for the last financial year.

For the 2013/14 financial year, the range recorded R62 million in actual sales, 8.4% above planned sales, with 51% coming from foreign clients, 30% from local commercial clients and 19% through the Department of Defence service level agreement.

The Alkantpan Test Range’s newly developed Insensitive Munitions (IM) and Hazard Classification (HC) Test Facility was extensively and successfully used in 2014/15, mainly by its main client Singapore. Diehl Defence BGT of Germany and Oto Melara of Italy jointly continued to conduct 155 mm artillery tests of new generation guided munitions, Armscor said. Negotiations are underway with Oto Melara to conduct tests with other smart weapon systems.

Denel Dynamics and Singapore conducted Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) testing and more tests are envisaged in the future. Denel test flew its Seeker 400 aircraft from the range in February 2014, with further testing conducted later in the year.

Armscor noted that the co-existence of Alkantpan and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is still of concern. A task team consisting of the Department of Defence, Armscor and Department of Science and Technology (including the SKA team) representatives are investigating various options of co-existence.

Alkantpan Test Range is an all-purpose ballistic test range used by local and international clients and is equipped to test a variety of artillery pieces as well as aircraft and naval weapon systems. Alkantpan is described by Armscor as a strategic ballistic test range for large calibre weapons that can shoot projectiles of up to 155 mm calibre to about 30 km high. The test site is 85 000 ha in size with a range length of 67 km and a width of 13 km.

Suitably secure stores and magazines allow for storage of weapons, spares, equipment and ammunition while the people doing the testing are also catered for in a facility that can accommodate up to 60 people about 10 km from the range.

Armscor said it spent R2.33 million rehabilitating the site during the last financial year in line with environmental protection regulations.

Armscor’s other main testing facility, Gerotek, did not fare as well during the last financial year, recording R39.1 million in sales, 82% of which was commercial. 17% of planned sales did not materialise. This compares to income of R53.2 million in 2013/14 (62% commercial). Armscor said funding “remains a major constraint” to Gerotek Test Facilities but it was aiming to sweat assets, focus on profitable commercial packages and grow local and international markets.

“Gerotek was used on numerous occasions by the local defence manufacturing industry to test military vehicles and components for the export market. In this regard, major clients were SAAB Grintek, Poynting, BAE Systems, Land Mobility Technologies (LMT), DCD Dorbyl, Paramount and Denel Land Systems. Commercial testing clients included Fiat (Italy), Ferrari (Italy), McLaren (UK), Tata (India), Mahindra (India), Volvo (Sweden), Porsche (Germany), BMW, Mercedes Benz, Ford, General Motors, Medav (Germany), and Bell Equipment,” Armscor said.

“Major events for the year included a Volvo truck launch, ONELOGIX truck driver competition, Ford launch, South African guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year competition, Tata truck launch, Toyota Government Fleet day and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja competition. Gerotek also hosted numerous international delegations such as the Indian High Delegation, Saudi military delegation, Military Attaché Annual Conference and the USA Engineering Research and Development technical group.”

Gerotek was established to test defence related products and maintain key facilities, equipment, capabilities and technologies for this purpose. Its most visible features are a high speed test track, a concrete obstacle track and other facilities associated with vehicle testing such as a skid pan and a number of off-road tracks. However, facilities also include test laboratories and a conference centre at Elandsfontein Pretoria West, the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) test laboratory in Lyttelton Centurion and the National Antenna Test Range at Paardefontein.

Today the SA National Defence Force is still a major customer but Gerotek has over the years evolved into a multi-disciplinary organisation. This sees it providing, in addition to military vehicle testing, accredited test and evaluation services, product promotion, corporate events, advanced driver training and driver development services.

A wide range of test measurements including strain, temperature, vibration, pressure and displacement can be supported from instrumentation to data processing phase.

Events that have been successfully hosted at Gerotek include team building, skidpan gymkhana, high speed trade drive and ride, long straight track, concrete ride and handling track, dynamic handling, dynamic circular and skidpan and off-road drives.

To elaborate on one, the concrete ride and handling, it is done on a track that includes a 4.2km low mobility section up to a 5.7 km high mobility concreted track with steep inclines and down hills; sharp corners, both negatively banked and spiral. It has been designed to test vehicles handling characteristics to the nth degree and it well-suited for demonstrating trucks and buses, representing typical worst case scenario road conditions.

Gerotek has at least 10 different off-road facilities. They range from a concreted gradient one with gradients up to 45 degrees, a sand trough, a mud hole, a fully concreted one and several natural ones. They can be used either in sequence, driving a set 4X4 route, or separately.

Apart from Alkantpan and Gerotek, Armscor brought in revenue for the Department of Defence through the use of South African National Defence Force equipment, matériel, facilities and personnel. “During the year under review, 39 marketing and material aid requests pertaining to vehicle tests, demonstrations, pilot training support, equipment and foreign delegation visits to SANDF facilities were processed, compared to 48 in the previous year. Through these activities, Armscor generated R15.5m for the DOD, compared to R2.7m in the 2013/14 financial year,” Armscor said.

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