Despite hard lessons learnt, the South African Air Force (SAAF) has successfully completed the mid-life upgrade of all Oryx medium transport helicopters under Project Drummer.
At a symbolic handing over ceremony of the 39 Oryx helicopters at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition on Thursday, Major General Gerald Malinga, Deputy Chief of the Air Force, took delivery from Chief of Defence Matériel, Mr Mthobisi Zondi.
Malinga said the Oryx helicopter had reached a point of decline in its lifecycle due to, among other things, the obsolesence of major avionics systems and so Project Drummer was initiated in 2006.
Denel was contracted in 2007 to upgrade onboard avionics and navigation systems under a R492 million fixed price, fixed-term contract which was originally due to be completed by June 2012. However, extended engineering and flight test efforts delayed the programme.
Project Drummer was divided into two phases, with Phase One having been completed in 2012. This phase saw the upgrade of the helicopter’s dynamic components, engines and the addition of electronic warfare systems and the LinkZA tactical data link. Phase Two concentrated on the legacy analogue avionics.
defenceWeb reported in January 2016 that part of the reason for the Oryx delay was some analogue equipment was retained while new digital equipment was added, forcing Denel Aviation to produce an interface unit for the new equipment. Another setback was the turmoil at Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE), which was one of the sub-systems suppliers for the Oryx upgrade project. After entering business rescue, ATE was taken over by Paramount to become Paramount Advanced Technologies in 2013.
Fifteen local sub-contractors, Denel Aviation in particular, were utilised for this project, with the final upgraded Oryx delivered back to the air force in July this year.
Brig Gen LL Mtirara, Director Air Force Acquisitions, told defenceWeb hard lessons were learnt during the project. “We had some failures,” he acknowledged, adding “we will not repeat them.”
Software in particular was an under-estimated area, particularly when it came to the need for airworthiness certification.
A spin-off of the project is that uniformed personnel worked hand-in-hand with Denel Aviation staff members on the factory floor. Thus, the knowledge which the project created will remain in-country and this will be of tremendous benefit when the time comes to upgrade the Rooivalk attack helicopter.
Malinga noted the mid-life update will contribute to arresting the decline of the SA National Defence Force as stipulated in the Defence Review 2015, which specifies that the SANDF must be maintained as a balanced, modern and flexible force capable of employing advanced technologies commensurate to internal operations and external missions on the African continent.
“The upgrade to the helicopter,” Malinga said, “enhances its capability during SAAF operational deployments. The completion of Project Drummer provides the SAAF with a rejuvenated platform which will allow our organisation to improve its availability and operational effectiveness.”
As a result of the upgrade, Mtirara said the useful life of the Oryx has been extended, adding 15 years of productive life before the next upgrade may be looked at.