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Hensold Optronics South Africa to launch new growth strategy

An Ahrlac fitted with an Argos II turret.Hensoldt Optronics South Africa (HOSA) sees itself becoming a bigger player in the aerospace and defence sector, especially with its airborne sensor solutions, and will soon launch a new business growth strategy.

What is now Hensoldt Optronics South Africa has had many names over the years, starting with Eloptro & Cumulus (Denel) then Carl Zeiss Optronics before becoming Cassidian Optronics in 2012. It was until February 2017 known as Airbus Defence and Space Optronics before the parent company in Germany was bought by the private equity firm KKR who acquired majority ownership to create Hensoldt GmbH, although Airbus Group retains minority shares.

Based in Germany, the new Hensoldt Group has some 4 000 employees of which the South African businesses have around 600 and is the largest industrial hub outside of Germany. Its two main operating units in South Africa are focussed on electronic warfare through GEW and optronics and electro-optics through HOSA, respectively.

State owned defence conglomerate Denel SOC Ltd has a 30% stake in HOSA and works closely with HOSA, which supplies items such as its Goshawk sensor turrets to Denel Dynamics for its Seeker unmanned aerial vehicle families, and its laser rangefinders for the Hoefyster Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) programme for the South African Army.

An Argos II EO/IR turret on an Aerosud/Paramount Ahrlac aircraft was exhibited at Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) in September 2016, indicative of the HOSA commitment to future success of the wider South African industry. Furthermore, HOSA is confident that future versions of the Argos II will be fitted to upgraded Rooivalk attack helicopters. Argos II is designed and produced in South Africa with local components and is easy to support.

Although operating closely in one single optronics strategic cluster, the South African and German sides of the optronics business each focus on different niche technologies and focus markets for maximum synergy and best effect. The South African company’s main activities include the design and supply of optical sensors, optical trackers for helmet-mounted sights, laser rangefinders, as well as targeting, surveillance and sighting systems.

Jan Wessels, Managing Director of HOSA, told defenceWeb the company’s turnover in 2016 was around R750 million, with around 90% of this coming from export contracts. According to the most recent Denel annual report, this compares to R577 million in revenue for 2015/16 and R624 million in 2014/15.

The largest percentage of the company’s revenue is from its Goshawk II and Argos II range of gyro stabilised airborne EO/IR observation and targeting systems, but it has four other main lines of business. These include laser products (laser rangefinders and designators), which are supplied to many different OEMs for vehicles, vessels and aircraft. Another major line of business is handheld target locators, which incorporate thermal imagers, laser rangefinders, a digital compass, communications link and computer. The OPUS-H is such a product.

HOSA also supplies the tracking systems for advanced helmet mounted sights manufactured by BAE Systems, which has installed them on the Gripen and Eurofighter - the company received orders for hundreds of helmet trackers for the Eurofighter during the last decade. The helmet tracking system comprises cockpit sensors that detect a series of LEDs embedded in the pilot’s helmet.

South Africa pioneered the research and development of Helmet Mounted Display Systems (HMDS) in the 1970s and the SA Air Force was the first to fly helmet- mounted sights operationally. With an HMDS, all flight and mission data can be projected on a helmet-mounted display. The system follows the head movements of the pilot providing him with the ability to react and make mission-critical decisions within a fraction of a second.

Another important business area is submarine periscopes, where HOSA works closely with colleagues in Germany to provide a comprehensive suite of optical and electronic periscope solutions, for both the new-built and upgrade markets. Between one and two periscopes per month are made in South Africa.

Wessels said the world market for electro-optic sensors in general, and airborne optronics specifically, is growing rapidly due to growing homeland security concerns and rapidly expanding unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) requirements. For example, its Goshawk II is fitted on the Seeker 200 and the LEO III and Argos II on the Seeker 400. Both the GoshawkII and the Argos II feature day/night sensors plus a laser designator option, allowing for helicopter and UAV platforms to designate smart weapons.

The Goshawk II is also in service on some clients’ Schiebel Camcopter rotary-wing UAVs. Another option offered on all HOSA’s EO/IR turrets is advanced geo-pointing features using inertial navigation technology to either move the sight to specific coordinates and lock onto a target even if there are clouds or obstacles in the way. Some of the other platforms that use the Argos II and Goshawk II include the Diamond DA 42, AHRLAC and helicopters.

Wessels told defenceWeb he is very optimistic about Hensoldt Optronics SA becoming a more prominent player in their field of business, more of which will be communicated later this year.

Picture: An Ahrlac fitted with an Argos II airborne observation system.

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