Feature: South African military munitions production


There are several South African companies that meet the ammunition needs of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and South African Police Service (SAPS), but the local military ammunition production industry is largely dependent on exports, with much of the ammunition made by Pretoria Metal Pressings (PMP) and Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) going overseas.

The South African arms industry began around the late 1930s when an Advisory Committee on Defence Force Requirements was appointed to explore military industrialism. Consequently, in 1938 the Royal Mint Pretoria began producing .303 ammunition for military use at Magazine Hill. Bomb and shell filling plants were also built.

With the advent of the Second World War, howitzer shells, 18 and 25 pounder shell cases, primers and detonators were also produced at Magazine Hill, and ammunition factories were also established in Kimberly, Ladysmith, Johannesburg and Pretoria West. Millions of rounds of ammunition were manufactured during the War – the precursor to PMP produced around 45% of the .303 rounds used by the Allied Forces – a total of 768 million rounds.

Post-War, Armscor became the main military ammunition manufacturer in the country, and by 1992 had given birth to Denel Pretoria Metal Pressings, which is the leading ammunition manufacturer in South Africa. PMP develops and manufactures a wide range of small-calibre ammunition for infantry weapons and automatic cannon, including the 20x42mm bursting ammunition for the innovative Inkunzi PAW (personal assault weapon), which is superior to a 40 mm grenade launcher in many respects. It has been exported to several customers and is being developed into the automatic Inkunzi Strike. Truvelo has also developed a new weapon, the 20×42 mm CMS rifle, to use this type of ammunition.

PMP makes cannon ammunition for the 27mm Mauser BK-27 cannon of the South African Air Force’s Saab Gripen fighters, the 30mm Aden cannon of its BAE Systems Hawk Lead-In Fighter-Trainer and 30×173 mm ammunition for the CamGun of the SA Army’s Badger infantry fighting vehicles. The ammunition is interchangeable with the Mk 44 Bushmaster II and linked ammunition made by PMP has already been fired successfully from this weapon.

Over 15 000 rounds of CamGun ammunition has been delivered. PMP’s range of products includes small-calibre ammunition ranging from 5.56 mm to 12.7 mm and medium-calibre from 20 mm to 35 mm and percussion caps of all types, as well as links for various small- and medium-calibre rounds.

PMP also manufactures Russian calibre ammunition (7.6×39 mm and 23×152 mm) for the AK-47 series of assault rifles and 23×152 mm ammunition for the ZSU gun series. PMP also produces power cartridges, rocket motors and canopy fragilisation systems for the safe ejection of pilots from aircraft; Probit rock drill bits for the mining industry and primary explosives and explosive products for commercial use in the private sector. It has the only large brass foundry in South Africa, exporting ammunition components and supplying brass for the manufacture of automotive radiators and electrical goods.

PMP is also working with Norwegian company Nammo on marketing their range, such as 7.62 mm, 12.7 mm 20×139 mm and M72 LAW 66 mm shoulder unguided anti-tank rockets.

On the larger end of the scale, Rheinmetall Denel Munition, 49% owned by Denel, manufactures a wide variety of medium and large calibre ammunition, such as 105 and 155 mm artillery shells, 60, 81 and 120 mm mortars, hand grenades, 40×51 mm grenades and 76 mm naval shells as well as aircraft bombs, and the Plofadder mine-clearing system. RDM recently qualified its range extending M2005 Velocity Enhanced Artillery Projectile (VLAP) for an international client. This is part of the 155 mm Assegai series, which has a range up to 57 km.

RDM has supplied all rocket motor propellants for Denel Dynamics products such as the A-Darter and Ingwe, and recently became the sole supplier of propellants for Forges de Zeebrugge FZ 70 rockets. RDM is also involved in Tawazun Dynamics’ Al Tariq bomb kit, providing the bomb bodies with insensitive explosive filling for the Mk 81 (113kg/250lb) and Mk 82 (227kg/500lb) bombs the system uses.

Plant engineering for various filling and lapping facilities is also part of the product portfolio and RDM has won contracts to establish heavy munitions plants in several countries, such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Although on a smaller scale, Reutech produces a range of ammunition, including Mk 81, Mk 82, Mk 83 and Mk 84 pre-fragmented bombs and 123kg PFAB 100-120 bomb, designed for use aboard Russian aircraft. The pre-fragmented bombs are used with proximity fuses to improve the shrapnel effect on the target. Reutech’s Fuchs Electronics subsidiary manufactures fuses for heavy munitions and aircraft bombs.

Medium velocity 40 mm grenades are becoming increasingly popular, and Atlantis Corporation makes such ammunition able to fire out to a range of 700 metres – substantially further than regular low velocity ammunition. The company also makes self-destruct fuses for 40 mm grenades.

There are a number of other relatively small ammunition manufacturers in South Africa, such as Less Lethal Africa, which makes less lethal 40 mm grenade, shotgun and small arms ammunition; Diplopoint (small arms ammunition); KZN Ammunition (supplying the sport shooting market); Frontier Bullets; Peregrine Bullets (mostly for hunting); and NobleTeq (arms and ammunition), amongst others.