Drive for the local production of small-calibre weapons and ammunition stalled


The initiative by the South African defence sector to have small calibre weapons and ammunition manufactured locally as part of an import substitution process has hit a stumbling block, but the National Defence Industry Council (NDIC) and other stakeholders are working to make the initiative a reality.

This is according to Dr Moses Khanyile, National Defence Industry Council Coordinator, who was briefing the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on 3 March on plans to boost the South African defence industry.

He reminded the Committee that the primary aim of the initiative is to ensure local production of small calibre weapons and ammunition; and to ensure that it is centrally procured through Armscor as a government procurement agency for all security-cluster departments and agencies.

In late 2020, Secretary for Defence Gladys Sontoe Kudjoe revealed that a concerted effort was being made to support the production of certain military hardware, including small calibre weapons and ammunition. In the past, the production of small calibre weapons was done by Denel, but it stopped producing as the local demand declined below economical levels, although small calibre ammunition is still being produced at Denel PMP.

“There is a need for consolidation of all the user requirements, especially the law enforcement agencies — SANDF, SAPS, Metros, Border Management Agency, and Intelligence Services— which will help with the economies of scale. When these items are produced in large quantities, their cost per unit will decrease, thus making it cheap to procure and produce – all orders from these agencies have to be placed with Armscor, which is a state acquisition agency,” Kudjoe stated at the time.

The proposal was endorsed by the director generals in the Justice Crime Prevention & Security (JCPS) Cluster in April 2021, and the NDIC was tasked to confirm capacity and support from the industry and National Treasury. According to Khanyile, the local defence industry has confirmed that it has the capacity and stands ready to manufacture small-calibre weapons and ammunition as may be required. Armscor confirmed its capacity to procure such weapons and ammunition on behalf of the state, subject to a slight increase in personnel as the demand for services increases.

However, despite numerous engagements and correspondence, the South African Police Service national office could not provide the data that the NDIC required: to look at factors such as different types of service weapons used by the South African Revenue Service, State Security Agency, Metro Police, SAPS, South African National Defence Force etc. as the SAPS is the custodian of the national firearms register.

“We could not get that data,” Khanyile said, and as a result the NDIC Chairperson escalated the matter to the National Commissioner but to no avail. “As things stand, we still don’t have the data. It is important to ascertain the types of standard issue weapons for the SAPS and Metropolitan Police as this will help with understanding the economic viability of designation in terms of scale for manufacturing and maintenance.”

Khanyile said it won’t make sense to proceed with local small arms manufacture if there are not enough numbers and there will be no return on investment.

The next step is to present to the JCPS director general’s Cluster for approval. Once approved by the JCPS Cluster (director general and minister levels), the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) will move forward with the initiative.

Khanyile said that once there is traction in the government space, local small arms and ammunition production could be expanded to the broader private security industry. “It would enable south Africa to penetrate the African market,” he said, pointing out that the world is going through a period of instability, with weapons supplies from Russia now in question, posing the problems of security of supply and maintenance.

“If South Africa had a small calibre manufacturing and maintenance capability it would be able to take care of the void. It would…enable African countries to focus more south than eastwards when it comes to the procurement of small calibre arms and ammunition,” Khanyile said.

Kudjoe told the Committee that there is a lot of procurement from the security cluster regarding small arms and other equipment, but very little is done locally. “If the JCPS cluster can procure from Denel, it will make a significant change. It’s important that we are doing that. Things should be produced internally,” she said.