Armscor has a number of strategic facilities, from test ranges to research and development institutions, and many of these are undergoing upgrades and improvements as the state-owned defence materiel agency seeks to better leverage them.
Key Armscor business units/facilities which generate revenue include the Alkantpan test range in the Northern Cape; the Institute of Maritime Technology at Simon’s Town; Gerotek west of Pretoria and Protechnik in Centurion.
Armscor noted that Alkantpan has seen improvements in its testing capabilities – upgrades to Alkantpan radars have resulted in an increase in tracking range to 100 km and the ability to track projectiles to the ground. Exemption for the operation of the tracking radars has been granted by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
Funds have been secured internally for the resurfacing of the 1.5 km airstrip with cape seal surface. This will allow Alkantpan to accommodate unmanned aerial vehicles of all shapes and sizes. The bill of quantity for the surfacing has been finalized; the bid process will be initiated to identify a service provider, Armscor stated in a report late last year.
However, the “number of tests conducted have reduced partly due to the Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) accident and deadlock with the NCACC [National Conventional Arms Control Committee] preventing issuing of export permits.” Armscor was referring to the September 2018 accident at RDM’s Somerset West facilities that destroyed several buildings. Replacements are due to come online this year.
Armscor pointed out that Alkantpan in 2019 conducted a successful demonstration of RDM’s long-range artillery capability where 155 mm artillery exceeded record ranges.
In the Western Cape, the Institute of Maritime Technology provides services to the SANDF (primarily to the SA Navy), government departments, defence industry, the broader maritime community and other clients as part of its commercial initiatives.
A notable achievement is IMT designing and developing an Underwater Signature Multi-Influence Range Measurement System – IMT is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of this. The system is successfully deployed and operational at IMT for the Test, Evaluation and Calibration of SA Navy sonar equipment.
The IMT also developed the Ultrasonic Broken Rail Detector (UBRD) system to automatically detect breaks in railway lines to prevent the derailment of trains. The UBRD system was developed and refined into leading continuous welded rail detection technology in the world.
The system has been successfully installed and tested in Allabad and Lucknow, India. The commissioning certificate is to be issued to IMT by Indian Railway. In November 2020 it was indicated that a final payment from Indian Rail is expected and that the IMT will aim at gaining further contracts not only in India but in other countries as well.
Armscor said efforts are currently underway to commercialise the URBD system. The relevant authorisation will be sought in terms of the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act).
The COVID-19 pandemic saw Armscor division Hazmat increase sales dramatically of personal protective equipment (PPE). Hazmat produces respiratory equipment for military and commercial purposes. The demand for military respiratory products diminished in recent years, however, and Hazmat successfully transformed the business from only supplying the Department of Defence with Chemical and Biological Warfare filters to a range of commercial PPE products, which are sold to the safety industry.
“Sales increased significantly due to an unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hazmat’s sales (R15.9 million) for the financial year exceeded budgeted sales by 16%. The ability of Hazmat to produce required products during a pandemic shows the value of sovereign manufacturing capabilities such as Hazmat,” Armscor said in its annual report.
Regarding its vehicle testing facility at Gerotek, Armscor said these were established to meet South Africa’s needs to test defence-related products and to maintain key facilities, equipment, capabilities and technologies for that purpose. However, Gerotek has attracted numerous international and other private sector clients in recent years, forming an important part of Armscor’s ability to diversify its income streams.
Protechnik laboratories, which focusses on chemical and biological defence, noted two key highlights in the 2019/20 financial year. Firstly, Protechnik successfully competed in an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) open tender process for the offering of the annual Analytical Chemistry Course (ACC) to African Member States. Second, Protechnik played an important role in testing chemicals and other products for efficiency during the initial phases of the COVID-19 outbreak. Protechnik designed, tested and evaluated a hand sanitiser and surface disinfectant with strict adherence to guidelines from the World Health Organisation that was distributed to the Department of Defence and Armscor and sold to other state departments.
The Armscor Dockyard in Simons Town, which serves as the primary maintenance supplier to the SA Navy, has for a long time been a poor performer and a financial drain. “It has come under increasing strain in recent years due to financial concerns and this has impacted on the Dockyard’s ability to provide all required services to the SA Navy. As such, a Renewal Strategy was developed to eliminate the institution’s financial deficit and increase efficiency,” Armscor stated.
The Renewal Strategy will be implemented over three years, with the first phase focusing on eliminating the financial deficit. The 2019/20 Armscor Annual Report notes that progress to date yielded the desired results and the implementation is ongoing.
The Armscor Dockyard’s performance is based on a service level agreement between the SA Navy and Armscor. In this regard, the Dockyard met all its obligations and projects were delivered within mutually agreed milestones. The Annual Report further highlights the specific and ad hoc repair and maintenance conducted on specific SA Navy vessels.
The Dockyard is also engaged in the process of re-establishing its internal combustion engine maintenance capability. This capability was in the Armscor Dockyard but deteriorated over time as most of the maintenance work on the Navy’s diesel engines was outsourced.
“Crucially, amid current financial constraints, Dockyard embarked on an initiative to generate income and augment the shortfall in funding received from the SA Navy through commercial activities. This is done by engaging local marine and manufacturing commerce to utilise idle capacity to generate income. This is currently being done through several ship repair agents that are bringing their commercial work to be done in the Armscor Dockyard,” according to Armscor.