Financial and technical issues delay new SANDF equipment

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The latest Armscor annual report has revealed formidable hurdles faced by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in upgrading its equipment due to financial challenges and the loss of skilled personnel at Denel.

Technical, financial and personnel-related issues at the state-owned defence conglomerate are pointed out by Armscor as being responsible for at least three projects being so far behind schedule as to be just about outdated. Two – Hoefyster, for the new Badger infantry combat vehicle (ICV) and the ground-based air defence system (GBADS) – are for the SA Army, the largest SANDF service, with number three the A-Darter fifth generation short range air-to-air missile system for the SA Air Force (SAAF).

On Badger, the planned replacement for the ageing Ratel ICV, the report has it: “This programme has been plagued by delays over the past five years and there has not been any significant progress during the past financial year. The development phase was contractually scheduled to be completed in May 2012 (original date), but has still not been completed”.

“Delays are mainly attributed to both technical and financial challenges within Denel. A number of employees have subsequently left Denel, thus further exacerbating the lack of capacity and capability of resources within the entity.

“The delivery of the first battalion of 88 vehicles was contractually scheduled to be completed in May 2019. This date was not achieved and production has not even commenced due to delays in the development and industrialisation process.”

Armscor “interrogated” Project Hoefyster’s status with recommendations going to the landward force as the end-user. “Acceptance of the recommendations by the DoD (Department of Defence) will unlock continuation of the programme,” according to the report.

The first phase of GBADS – its local warning segment – is operational with the Air Defence Artillery Formation, with progress on phases two and three.

Phase two has two sub-phases, the first being an upgrade of the gun fire control system (GFCS) of the 35 mm anti-aircraft guns in service with the Air Defence Artillery Formation, and this has been completed. The second sub-phase entails inclusion of the missile’s short range air defence system capability, which remains unfunded.

When complete, with no indication time-wise, GBADS will comprise an air defence operational centre, fitted with a modern air defence control system and tactical command and control system, new ICV-based headquarters, upgraded Thutlwa radar system and higher order linking to SAAF sector control centre.

Development of the Denel Dynamics A-Darter, co-funded by the Brazilian Air Force, was completed four years ago with airworthiness certification by both air forces involved, which marked the end of Brazilian involvement.

“Contractually, the full complement of contracted missiles was scheduled to be delivered in October 2017. The project experienced significant delays, as a result of technical and financial challenges encountered by Denel, which resulted in non-delivery of components and sub-systems by suppliers. This also led to a substantial loss of experienced and critical personnel at Denel.

“The project came to a complete stop during the previous financial year and no progress has been made since then,” is how the report notes zero forward movement.

All is, however, seemingly not lost with an Armscor initiative showing industrialisation and production of the missiles to meet SAAF requirements is “feasible” by way of “a different and unique contracting model with greater participation from the South African defence industry (SADI)”.

As with Hoefyster, any new approach to the A-Darter project will need DoD approval.