Several strategic studies have been commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to ensure that the South African aero- space and defence industries are effectively positioned for future competitiveness and that they contribute to the country's national policies, reports the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Aerospace Initiative head Beeuwen Gerryts.
The studies are aimed at providing an overview of the aerospace and defence industry in relation to the global markets and at identifying possible national flagship projects, support mechanisms and interventions requiring the allocation of funding from government.
An aerospace sector development plan (SDP), commissioned by the DST and the DTI's Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI), and conducted by the CSIR and telecommunications and aerospace investment holding company Scalos owner Cornelis Groesbeek, is under way and is aimed at summarising the strategic environment and developing the framework for subsector development plans, such as a strategy for aerostructures.
“The aerospace SDP contains initial recommendations that include a national joint steering committee, elevating the aerospace and defence industries to a higher priority sector, expediting clustering developments, accelerating skills development programmes and expanding the number and the size of flagship projects,” he says.
The development of the SDP is being carried out under the guidance of a steering committee consisting of the DST, the DTI, the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association of South Africa's policy and strategy committee and other key individuals.
A number of stakeholder workshops are planned prior to the expected completion of the SDP at the end of February. A space industry framework study, undertaken by information and communication technology (ICT) consulting firm Z-coms, was commissioned by the DTI's AISI last year. The recommendations of this study will be integrated into the aerospace SDP, says Gerryts.
The recommendations of a defence industry study, which was done by management consultancy Managing for Excellence, will be implemented by a team under the leadership of the DTI.
The existing initiatives from the DTI and research and development (R&D) programmes from the DST will be used as a basis for implementing the recommendations.
“Meanwhile, a review of the value of the South African aerospace and defence industry to the South African economy shows that this industry is characterised as high technology, owing to the high level of R&D, which produces complex systems and requires skilled labour and a high level of optimisation,” says Gerryts.
However, in the process of delivering high-tech products and services, new skills and technologies are continually developed throughout the network of companies involved.
He points out that this new knowledge, skills and technologies lead to the improvement of the related companies' capability and competitiveness. Further, this spillover of skills and technologies can benefit other industries, such as the auto- motive, ICT and energy sectors.
“This is one of the reasons why developing countries actively promote high-technology industries. It is an effective method of increasing the overall level of industrial capability in a country,” says Gerryts.
The South African aerospace sector is primarily involved in three market segments, including developed-country markets – where South Africa's industry acts as subcontractors and delivers subsystems and components.
Further, the South African aerospace industry becomes involved in developing country markets as integrators, systems upgraders or as original-equipment manufacturers.
The third market segment is the local market, in which the aerospace sector provides support and products to the Department of Defence and peace enforcement agencies while developing advanced technologies and skills.