Saturday, July 21, 2018
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South African defence industry facing tough times, needs to work together

A Super Hind attack helicopter.Nobody will be coming to save the troubled South African defence industry and it is up to the industry to save itself, according to the CEO of Paramount Advanced Technologies, who says the industry needs to work together for its survival.

Speaking in his personal capacity at the recent Aerospace, Maritime and Defence (AMD) conference hosted at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ralph Mills said that the South African defence industry is a shadow of its former self and the local market cannot sustain nor revive it.

He painted a fairly bleak picture of the local defence industry, saying that there have been few real technology breakthroughs and developments in the last few years and most local companies are selling technology that is 15-20 years old. “I cannot think of any major new projects in the last three or four years,” he said and expressed disappointment at the stalling of projects Biro and Hotel for new patrol vessels and a hydrographic survey vessel for the South African Navy.

It costs several million rand for companies to bid on Project Biro and it hurts when the tenders get cancelled, he said.

Looking forward, Mills said if current trends continue then in five years’ time the South African defence industry will comprise a small group of survivors with a strong commercial orientation. They will have made the transition from ‘egonomics’ to economic collaboration in the greater interest of the group. Surviving companies will be primarily focussed on the export market and will be involved in both the defence and civil environments – for instance working on safe cities, border security etc.

Mills said that collaboration and cooperation are keys to the success of the industry. “We need to be more productive and focus on collaboration rather than destructive competition. A big problem is that we don’t work together.”

He said cooperation is possible and cited the joint command centre at Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2016. This saw GEW, Reutech, Qinetiq, the CSIR, Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT), Saab, the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT), Excalibur, Cobham, Inmarsat, Airbus and Nautic Africa come together.

Paramount Advanced Technologies wants to take collaboration a step further and invite industry to work on a helicopter project. Paramount has purchased a helicopter and would like the SA industry to join them in creating a ‘South African Defence Incorporated’ product that could have the potential for global markets.

PAT will install its FLASH (Flexible Light Armaments System for Helicopters) mission system on the aircraft. The company is inviting other defence companies to provide systems and components as well as have their logos on the helicopter in the spirit of collaboration – for instance Denel Dynamics could provide missiles; Hensoldt Optronics could provide a sight; Forges de Zeebrugge could provide the rockets, etc.

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