South Africa and India seeking defence industry collaboration


The South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Export Council (SAAMDEC) is looking at collaboration with Indian defence companies and after a trade visit identified areas of cooperation that include ammunition, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles, amongst others.

SAAMDEC CEO Sandile Ndolvu on 18 July said a successful breakthrough has been agreed upon in identifying key strategic areas from which SAAMDEC will collaborate on with the Indian defence industry. He announced this during a site visit, which formed part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Outward Selling Mission to India in the cities of New Delhi and Mumbai.

Ndlovu said the proposed areas of collaboration between the South African and Indian defence industries include small and medium calibre ammunition, landward weapons, particularly artillery, cybersecurity, electronic warfare, unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence.

“From the South African defence industry side we are going to identify local companies that we will pair with Indian companies under the areas that we have identified. These companies will then identify specific areas within these broad topics, work on them and report back to us as the export council. As far as opportunities are concerned, the Indian defence industry is diametrically opposed or opposite to our industry. They are working at building their industry. In order to create opportunities for our industry back home we need to make use of the opportunities that are provided by India,” he said.

Ndlovu added that interactions have been fruitful, and that they also had the benefit of visiting the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

A total of 27 local companies have participated in the trade mission that got underway last Monday.

“Their objectives are the same and they both enjoy the support of their government. All in all, the New Delhi leg of this mission has been quiet successful as far as I’m concerned because we managed to agree with our Indian counterparts that regarding procurement, they will share current opportunities with ourselves, so that our members can participate where there is a requirement. In some instances, they have already informed us of what the Indian army needs. It is up to our exporters to grab those opportunities,” Ndlovu said.

SAAMDEC falls under the government’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and facilitates exports for defence and related industries under the auspices of industry association AMD (Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association of South Africa).

India’s defence industry is growing rapidly, assisted by the fact that India is one of the largest arms importers in the world. Its state-run defence companies produce ammunition and missiles (Bharat Dynamics), avionics (Bharat Electronics), naval vessels (Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers and Goa Shipyard), and helicopters, fighter jets and transport aircraft (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), whilst research and development is carried out by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Numerous other private companies are active in the Indian defence sector.

South Africa has limited defence dealings with India, although Saab has done a lot of business with India supplying aircraft self-protection systems for Indian military helicopters. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers Database, South Africa supplied 550 Casspir armoured vehicles between 2011 and 2016, with final assembly in India. 90 second hand Casspirs were delivered in 1999 after being refurbished – they were destined for Army and Police units in Kashmir.

In the early 2000s, Denel was contracted to supply the Indian Army with 1 000 anti-material NTW-20 rifles and 400 000 rounds of ammunition, but the company was blacklisted in 2005 after allegations of kickbacks. No irregularities were found during investigations, but it was only in September 2018 that India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) finally removed Denel from its list of aerospace and defence companies barred from doing business in India.

The terms of the Settlement Agreement saw Denel waive off nearly $100 million it would have been entitled to after arbitration proceedings following Denel’s expulsion from the Indian market. By the time Denel was blacklisted in 2005, 400 NTW-20 anti-materiel rifles had been delivered. The contracts with India involved the supply of 700 NTW-20 rifles, knock-down kits for another 300 rifles and 398 000 rounds of ammunition.

After the Denel deal fell through, India’s Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli began manufacturing the locally developed Vidhwansak multi-calibre anti-materiel rifle, which bears many similarities to the NTW-20.