With future defence capital equipment acquisition just about a figment of the imagination, the “swords into ploughshares” analogy is one which the South African defence industry should be pushing – hard.
The talent and skills are there and State-owned defence and security acquisition agency Armscor has at least three examples where technology developed initially for defence applications has been modified for civilian applications with all three additionally having lifesaving potential.
One is the underwater beacon detection system designed and developed by the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town.
Working in collaboration with the SA Navy, the underwater locator beacon (ULB) can detect cockpit voice and flight data recorders on crashed or ditched aircraft. It has been tested on an unmanned surface vessel in the IMT test tank and further trials, including towed at sea, are in the offing.
At present it appears Armscor is not marketing the ULB to either potential users, such as airlines, or those who could actively promote its use including representative aviation organisations.
Asked what the status of the ULB was, Advocate Ndodomzi Mvambo, Armscor Acting Group Executive: Corporate Support, told defenceWeb: “IMT is a military research and development facility housing sensitive strategic capabilities and technologies”.
On possible civilian applications for the ULB he points out “any marketing and/or certification information of any system emanating from IMT can only be made public with approval from all relevant authorities having considered the security aspects”.
So, it would appear the ULB is not yet set to join another innovation from IMT, its shark repellent cable system. This was designed and developed in Simon’s Town with IMT and SA Navy input along with collaboration from the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. It is seen as a potential environmentally friendly alternative to shark nets, in use at 37 popular KwaZulu-Natal beaches. IMT was contracted to design and build a short demonstrator cable which was tested and then saw a full-length demonstrator cable built. Two successful sea evaluations have been completed but there has not been any announcement from Armscor of any repellent cable systems build to date.
IMT was also instrumental in the design and development of an ultrasonic broken rail detector and again there has been no announcement from the defence and security agency on possible partnerships to build and market the detectors.