It has been a year since the establishment of Hensoldt South Africa, and in that time the new company has celebrated numerous achievements in spite of the coronavirus pandemic – from brand building, to acquisitions, developing new products and securing new customers.
Hensoldt South Africa was formed in September 2019 when Hensoldt Optronics South Africa and GEW Technologies were consolidated under a single brand, with the aim of becoming the leading defence electronics and security solutions provider in South Africa and one of the top providers in the world.
The past year has seen Hensoldt South Africa invest in new acquisitions and broaden its product base, with one notable achievement being the acquisition of Tellumat’s air traffic management and defence and security business units. The acquisition expands the global footprint of the Hensoldt Group and broadens Hensoldt South Africa’s portfolio with radar, IFF, datalink, air traffic management and unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities.
“I am proud to see the progress we have made on many of the goals we started out with,” said Sihle Mayisela, the newly-appointed Executive of Strategic Affairs at Hensoldt South Africa. “For example, growing our portfolio and creating a self-contained South African version of Hensoldt.”
Apart from the Tellumat business units’ acquisition, another notable achievement over the last year was the launch of an engineering hub with the objective of creating a platform for the development of resources, people, and new technologies for both the local and international Hensoldt family of companies. This is in line with Hensoldt South Africa’s plans to grow its skills base by a multitude of mechanical, electronic and computer engineers.
On the technology front, in the last year Hensoldt South Africa started an incubation project focusing on radar technology, which will expand its leadership role in this rapidly growing field. A new automated communications intelligence (COMINT) collection and analysis platform is also being developed, which will be introduced to the market soon.
A number of new contracts have been signed, among others with a local client to use the Argos-II gimbals on its fleet (the South African Air Force and Police Service are Hensoldt customers), as well as the German Federal Police, who will also use the Argos-II electro-optical gimbal in its Super Puma, EC155 and EC135 aircraft. The Optronics business unit also signed an exclusive partner agreement with Saudi-Arabian defence technology company Intra Defence Technologies to cooperate in the joint development and future co-production of next-generation airborne electro-optic systems.
Hensoldt’s communications and signals intelligence specialist GEW had a busy year, with its Cape Town division delivering an automated spectrum management system to the South African communications authority – it has been the agency’s supplier of choice since 2000. Among other deliveries, the company also delivered its flagship force-protection jammers on a new fleet of armoured personnel carriers for an African military involved in peacekeeping operations in Africa.
At the end of September, the Hensoldt Group listed its shares on the Frankfurt stock exchange, becoming one of the first companies to embark on an initial public offering in Germany since the coronavirus pandemic hit. “This is a confirmation of the confidence the leadership has in the future growth and good governance that has been put in place,” Mayisela said. “We at Hensoldt South Africa are excited about this as it gives us comfort that we are here stay – this presents us with the opportunity to grow our business the way we intend to.”
Whilst the last year had its share of positive developments, it has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Hensoldt was able to maintain operations and adapt successfully to sustaining business while keeping employees safe. “COVID-19 has taught us to re-evaluate our supply value-chain,” Mayisela said. “We realised during the pandemic that the South African defence industry needs to be more self-sustaining – we cannot always acquire all our import supplies. So to invest in local SMMEs would be investing in the future. For us it would be a strategic approach to invest in South African companies, because we have the capacity and the expertise locally.” Mayisela added that “There are a lot of sustainable plans that we are putting in place, that will make a longer term difference, such as our bursary programme for young women.”
The new normal of working under pandemic restrictions also saw Hensoldt South Africa host the first virtual Sovereign Security Conference, at which the company’s comprehensive portfolio of state-of-the-art security technologies was showcased.
One of Hensoldt’s key portfolio areas is border security solutions, with Hensoldt South Africa having the vision to be the main turnkey solution provider for border authorities. Mayisela explained that “We have a unique systems house capability that enables us to lead command and control and combine all the technologies from different providers necessary to protect our borders.”
As part of its security portfolio, Hensoldt is also actively involved in wildlife conservation, having developed a combined radar and electro-optical surveillance system that is protecting nearly two thousand rhinos in the world’s largest rhino conservancy. At the beginning of March, the company celebrated three years of zero poaching in the conservancy, located in South Africa.
Once coronavirus lockdown regulations allow, Hensoldt South Africa plans to further showcase its capabilities to local clients. “We are strengthening our relationship with our local market, not just in South Africa, but in Africa,” Mayisela said. “As we work with our local market, we hope to expand into the rest of Africa with an industry-proven track record to show.”
“I am excited that we are aiming high and going big, but doing it as South Africans. We are run and managed by South Africans and we are building our own South African brand,” he said. Strengthening its local presence includes small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMME) and black economic empowerment (BEE) development. “This is not about complying, but about creating the future,” Mayisela said. “The policy itself is not our driver, we want to do the right thing, we want to be a good corporate citizen. It is part of our culture.”