New technologies making their way to SA Army


The South African Army has started using unmanned aerial vehicles and other hardware for peacekeeping missions, and is upgrading some of its existing capabilities, including hand-held mine detection and electronic warfare.

On 1 August the South African Army Engineer Formation officially took delivery of Project Pirate, which was created to acquire new generation hand-held mine detectors for the Army. Contracts have been awarded over the last several years to Med-Eng and other companies for handheld detectors, protective gear and landmine removal equipment. The handover ceremony was attended by Rethabile Gumede from Denel Land Systems and Eric Milburn from ECM Technologies, amongst others.

According to SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, speaking during a recent media briefing, other equipment has also been taken into service, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). He said that a UAV section has been deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to strengthen the Army’s intelligence capability.

“This section will be tasked to conduct route reconnaissance; base defence; the identification of areas around roadblocks/defiles and observation of areas around target areas. The Tactical Intelligence Unit (TIU) was approved by the United Nations Security Council to provide tactical intelligence to the FIB [Force Intervention Brigade], so that the FIB is able to carry out targeted operations to neutralise and disarm illegal armed groups in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The TIU comprises of South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi,” he said.

The South African Army was seen flying Indiza UAVs during a pre-deployment exercise earlier this year. The Indiza is locally developed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and can be folded up into a small container for deployment. Indiza is a hand-launched two metre span, rugged mini-UAV that can fly for over an hour at distances of up to 10 km. Its airframe can house a number of generic camera pods, including day and night cameras.

Also in the DRC, Yam said that for the first time on a peace intervention mission the South African Army deployed the SA Army Artillery capability to provide indirect fire support to foot soldiers. “The aim of the Artillery component attached to 2 South African Infantry Battalion [in the DRC] is to provide an indirect fire support capability for base security, as well as a close fire support and indirect fire support during offensive/defensive operations which is their secondary role to achieve the physical and psychological effect of the artillery mortar bomb as required by the Battalion Commander. The 120 mm mortar capability will act as a rapid reaction force in the air lift air landed role to provide an indirect fire capability to Infantry Company’s upon request and approval by the Battalion Commander, allowing the artillery battery to obtain maximum reach and maximum range. This capability is reliant on availability of air support.”

Yam said the intensity of fighting in the DRC resulted in the decision to provide mortars to troops in the Central African nation. For example, a week after 2 South African Infantry Battalion deployed to the DRC, they came under attack at night, and have been involved in subsequent firefights with rebels.

According to Yam, the South African Army Signal Formation is upgrading its electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to address ever-evolving technological requirements. “The investment in addressing obsolescence in electronic warfare equipment has progressed very well with the procurement of EW MOTS [military off the shelf], which will result in improved effectiveness of the Formation’s EW capability,” he said. The upgrades cover static, mobile and tactical capabilities.

Yam noted that the Army is proceeding with Project Palama, which is looking at a replacement for its SAMIL logistics vehicles. In December 2018 Armscor issued a request for information (RFI) for the vehicle replacement project, and by mid-2019 was evaluating responses.

Whilst the SA Army has been receiving some new equipment, Yam expressed frustration with Denel Land Systems over the huge delays in delivering Badger infantry combat vehicles. He also noted that some projects have had to be cancelled due to budget being taken away by National Treasury.