Several projects could contribute in important ways to ensuring the stabilisation and survival of the South African defence industry, including an upgraded Rooivalk, Ratel upgrade, air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles and a Samil replacement.
This is according to the 2020 Aerospace and Defence Masterplan, which lists nearly a dozen projects that would be beneficial to the defence industry if they could proceed. The biggest of these is Project Hoefyster for the production of Badger infantry combat vehicles for the SA Army.
However, the Masterplan notes the project has been delayed by defence budget cuts and the collapse of VR Laser. The delay has caused some subsystems to become obsolescent and no longer available.
“Production of the section variant of the Badger using components on hand could begin immediately at low cost with the production of other variants to follow as their development is completed and funding is available. This would allow the Army to equip two battalions with Badger section vehicles (retaining the Ratel in other roles) and ensure the survival of Denel Land Systems and Denel Vehicle Systems,” the Masterplan states.
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The cost of acquiring 150 Badger-30 section vehicles would be approximately R6 billion over five to six years. This would give the Army a very effective infantry combat vehicle for the next two to three decades at a unit cost of $ 2.4 million, which is less than any imported vehicle, and less than some simple armoured personnel carriers (e.g. Colombia paid $2.65 million for the less capable LAV and Australia is paying US$11.2 million for the similarly capable Boxer), the Masterplan notes.
Regardless of Project Hoefyster, the Ratel will be in service for at least the next 15 years and the Masterplan notes there is a case to be made for refurbishing, modernising and upgrading (e.g. night capability) sufficient Ratels for at least one mechanised infantry battalion, and for converting other Ratels to replace the older armoured personnel carriers (Casspir), thereby reducing the new vehicle requirement by several hundred.
Another landward opportunity is Project Sapula, which covers the acquisition of a new family of armoured personnel carriers to replace the Casspir and Mamba. The concept is to base these vehicles on the drive lines of a future truck family. The manufacture of the vehicles would otherwise be entirely local, and the requirement is sufficiently large (at least 1 000 to begin with) to allow spreading of this work over several companies, especially if carried out in parallel with Project Vistula, the Masterplan states.
Project Vistula is for the replacement of the South African National Defence Force’s Samil trucks, most of which date from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. “The concept of developing a truck family in South Africa is neither practical nor affordable, but following the original Samil model would be both: Select suitable trucks, adapt them to meet SANDF requirements and assemble them in South Africa, using imported engines and transmissions and locally designed and built bodies. Much of this work could be spread across elements of the motor industry as well as the defence industry. This is a long- term option.”
Elsewhere on the landward side, Denel Land Systems has the LEO long-range 105 mm gun in development that is estimated to have considerable export potential. It exists in towed and turreted form and would probably require some R700 million to bring to production standard in both variants. This could be done over a period of three years.
On the aeronautical side, the Rooivalk attack helicopter will require upgrading and modernising. The aircraft has proved itself to be extremely effective in the course of operations with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but these aircraft lack a precision weapon (the Mokopa missile was designed for them but the South African Air Force has lacked the funds to purchase any) and are now in need of an upgrade.
The Masterplan notes a pilot project is in hand at Denel Aeronautics that involves replacing old electronics and the main sight (with a sight available locally that will greatly enhance combat capability). The full upgrade can be carried out using almost only local items, as can the provision of precision engagement capability (Mokopa and with the new sight also Ingwe). The cost of upgrading the present 11 aircraft in service and repairing the one damaged aircraft and upgrading it, will be approximately R4 billion.
“Logically and practically the Rooivalk upgrade would link to the development of an Oryx Mk II to replace the present Oryx fleet, as there is no other medium helicopter with the ‘hot and high’ performance of the Oryx. There have been some expressions of interest for the upgraded Rooivalk. The production of additional aircraft would involve mainly local companies, although the engines and gearbox would be imported.”
The South African defence industry has considerable capabilities when it comes to missiles. For example, the Denel Dynamics Umkhonto surface-to-air missile has proved very successful and is in service with the navies of Finland and Algeria as well as with the South African Navy. It was also selected by Sweden, although funding constraints there stalled the project, and by Egypt (whose contract was lost by the failure of Denel to obtain a bank guarantee in time). Further development of a longer-range radar guided version would considerably expand the market for this missile, as would finalising the development of the ground-launched version and bringing it into SA Army service, the Masterplan notes.
Denel Dynamics is developing a beyond visual range air-to-air missile under Project Marlin. “Taken to production level, this would make South Africa one of fewer than half a dozen countries able to produce such a missile, allowing other countries to acquire it rather than be forced to depend on one or another of the major powers. Completing development of this missile would require some R4 billion over five years, which is extremely low compared to the development cost in other countries, suggesting that this missile would generate a very useful return on investment, in addition to giving South Africa additional strategic independence.”
Another promising project is the Denel C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) protection system for bases and ships, and its development to production level would make South Africa one of three or four countries with this capability. It comprises the Cheetah Mach 3 missile, which also has potential in the general surface-to-air role and as an air-to-air weapon for helicopters, and the Mongoose 3 close range missile that also has potential as a self-protection system for helicopters. The system is inherently flexible, using industry standard dimension containers and being linked to any air defence radar used by the forces being protected. Completing development of this system would require approximately R3 billion over six years, the Masterplan notes.
Other missile projects are FISM and IMPI: FISM is a light ‘future infantry support missile’ that allows an individual soldier to engage a target with precision; IMPI is a small guided missile for use by unmanned aerial vehicles or light aircraft. Each would require some R450 million to bring to production standard, which could be done within four years.
On the maritime side, there is potential for a 30-year shipbuilding programme spread over two shipyards. Added to that would be smaller yards to build service craft and the like and the companies that would provide auxiliary machinery, electrical systems, electronics, interior fittings, fire-fighting systems etc.
“The programme could be continuous because by the time the last new ship is delivered, the first ship built would be due for replacement. This is a model that has been selected by Australia and Canada and, in somewhat different form, the United Kingdom, and by countries such as Japan on a large scale. Adopting and committing to such a shipbuilding programme would also enable the industry to take on other work at competitive pricing because it would have the infrastructure and the baseline workload. There would also be a real possibility of building and fitting out patrol vessels and other vessels for other African navies,” the Masterplan states.
For more on this subject, consider attending the SAAMDEC/defenceWeb Aerospace and Defence Masterplan webinar on 25 May.