South Africa’s arms exports nearly doubled in 2023


The National Conventional Arms Control Committee’s (NCACC’s) 2023 annual report shows a massive rise in South African defence exports, which totalled R7.1 billion for the previous calendar year, up from R4.6 billion in 2022.

R1.6 billion worth of armoured combat vehicles were exported in 2023 to over a dozen countries. These included Burkina Faso (four vehicles worth R40 million); Cameroon (six vehicles worth R47.3 million – most likely upgraded Ratels from OTT); China (38 vehicles worth R261 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (30 vehicles worth R231 million – apparently Maatla and Mbombe 4s from Paramount); Cote d’Ivoire (77 vehicles worth R503 million); Ecuador (six vehicles worth R83 million – believed to be Mbombe 6s from Paramount); Guinea (two vehicles worth R26 million); Kenya (35 vehicles worth R272 million); Mali (two vehicles worth R15 million – possibly Puma M36s); Malawi (15 vehicles worth R14.6 million); Saudi Arabia (six vehicles worth R46 million); Thailand (six vehicles worth R36 million); Togo (three vehicles worth R46 million – apparently Mbombe 4s); the United Arab Emirates (two vehicles worth R21 million); and Zambia (two vehicles).

Light weapons worth R153 million were exported to a dozen countries, with the largest orders coming from Bangladesh (620 items worth R41 million); Brazil (70 items worth R3.5 million); Indonesia (34 items worth R76 million); and the UAE (33 items worth R6.5 million).

Regarding bombs and rockets, four countries ordered R175 million worth of these munitions, namely Bangladesh (60 000 bombs worth R58.5 million); Germany (4 584 bombs worth R36.6 million); Malaysia (2 002 bombs worth R12.6 million); and the Philippines (82 625 bombs worth R67 million).

Ammunition, including artillery rounds, once again accounted for the majority of arms exports in 2023, according to NCACC figures, amounting to over R3.8 billion, with the majority exported by Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM).

The largest order came from Germany, which acquired 43 624 rounds/shells for R1.66 billion. This was followed by Hungary with 35 818 rounds/shells purchased for R1.59 billion. Other large orders came from Bangladesh (100 080 rounds/shells for R88 million); Estonia (10 900 rounds/shells for R218 million); Gabon (6 022 rounds/shells for R115 million); Philippines (71 222 rounds/shells for R101 million); Spain (29 500 rounds/shells for R46 million); and Switzerland (5 850 rounds/shells for R11 million).

Electronic systems also continue to make up a significant component of South African defence exports, with nearly R890 million worth of countermeasures, observation equipment, electronic warfare systems, and measuring/communication equipment exported in 2023, according to the NCACC.

Notable exports in 2023 included R111 million worth of communication/measuring equipment to Bangladesh; R80 million worth of measuring/communication equipment to India; R33 million worth of countermeasures equipment to Australia; R120 million worth of observation equipment to Italy; R29 million worth of countermeasures equipment to Germany; R377 million worth of countermeasures equipment to Turkey; and R10 million worth of alert and warning equipment to China.

Other notable exports in 2023 comprised 42 ‘bombs and rockets’ to the UAE worth R26 million along with eight UAVs listed as worth R45 000. It is believed the UAE received Al Tariq and Sejeel guided bombs, according to SIPRI data.

With regards to dual use items, the NCACC annual report lists R421 million worth of items being exported to nearly 40 countries in 2023. This includes 33 718 items of ‘armour’ to the DRC worth R172 million; communications equipment worth R43 million to Australia; R21 million worth of communications equipment to Germany; R35 million worth of communications equipment to Saudi Arabia; R27 million of the same to the United States; R22 million worth of UAV and aerospace systems to Malaysia; and R19 million of the same to Zimbabwe. Other items on the dual use export list include sensors, information security products, electronics and communications systems.

All told, the NCACC annual report gives South Africa’s total 2023 exports as amounting to R7.1 billion, which is up substantially from the R4.679 billion exported in the 2022 calendar year, and R3.353 billion in 2021.

2022 calendar year exports were also dominated by ammunition (R1.6 billion), bombs and rockets (R946 million), and electronic equipment (R1.3 billion).

The strong export sales in 2023 are most likely a result of the general world increase in military expenditure that accelerated following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that global military expenditure continued to increase last year, remaining well over the $2 trillion mark, to reach a new high of $2 240 billion.

Note: NCACC figures are unreliable, with multiple mistakes evident in reporting. For example, R33.2 billion worth of ‘countermeasure equipment’ exported to Australia in 2023 was in fact R33 million, as clarified by Ezra Jele, Head of Secretariat, NCACC. It is not clear how many other errors are contained the 2023 annual report.