Denel explains air defence system delays


The arms company finds the old adage is true – too many cooks spoil the broth.Denel, the state-owned arms company, has found the hard way that the old proverb is true: too many cooks can spoil the broth, or at least, too many vendors can delay an off-the-shelf acquisition 41 months.

Denel Dynamics CEO Jan Wessels says about 30 companies were involved with Project Guardian, the acquisition and customisation of the equipment required for a man-portable mobile air defence battery.

By late last year, the project, also known as GBADS (ground-based air defence system), was running 41 months late, although most of its components, including the missiles, their launchers, the radios and radars were purchased off-the-shelf.

“The missile and radar are European and the software was written by five companies, some in SA,” says Wessels. “Our job is to put it all together to make it work.”

Wessels adds the delays and problems encountered have made the project one “where you have to grind your teeth”.

“There are 32 entities that must deliver. We`ll just have to take the pain until they all do so satisfactorily. Although there is a lot of contractual baggage, we are quite chuffed about progress with the programme.”

Denel Integrates Systems Solutions executive manager Ralph Mills adds the first live firings of the Starstreak missile in October “went very well”.

No need?

Democratic Alliance spokesman Eddie Trent has criticised Guardian on account of its cost and has questioned its utility, arguing that SA currently faces no known military threat.

Finance minister Trevor Manuel responded that the Constitution required SA to provide for its defence, and prudence required its defence force to have some sophisticated weapons, including air defence missiles.

Defence analysts have also scratched their heads at discerning a military threat. However, SA is involved in peacekeeping in several volatile areas of Africa where troops could be subjected to air attack.

SA is also hosting the Confederations Cup next year and the Soccer World Cup a year later and both may attract airborne suicide bombers.

The 1998 Defence Review listed a number of possible – if improbable – military threats, including “limited neutralising attacks” or “raids” that could conceivably include air or missile strikes on key infrastructure such as power stations, the Eskom national grid, dams, bridges or airports. Should any of this be damaged, or destroyed, the cost to the economy may be many magnitudes greater than the money spent on assuring a core competency in missile-based air defence.

The probability of a threat materialising and the extent to which it must be provided for – and at what acceptable cost – falls into the discipline of risk management, which applies as much to business as it does to the national defence.

In the case of Guardian, the army only acquired a quarter of the full requirement, one battery of missiles instead of four. This is equipped with eight Starstreak lightweight launchers and two Thales Page local warning radars and other assorted ICT equipment.

Stable Sable

Projects Guardian and Protector are two parts of an unfolding ADA systems architecture called “Sable” that also includes gun artillery and a command-and-control (C2) hierarchy.

ADA specialists prefer a layered approach, with guns providing close-in defence, VHORAD missiles providing over-lapping near protection and SHORAD, as well as medium range missiles providing deterrence at longer range. Beyond the range of the missile umbrella, the air force`s fighters are meant to provide protection.

The missiles are directed by a C2 network that includes the national radar grid, as well as that of the air force to provide “area warning”. “Local warning” is provided by the Kameelperd system acquired under Project Bioskoop.

The air picture generated by the local and area warning radars are presented on ruggedised IT installed in a command post that forms part of the Kameelperd system that provides the fire control system required (acquired under Project Dart) to engage hostile aircraft and missiles while not firing on friendly assets.

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