No need to re-invent the wheel for SA defence industry strategy – Heitman

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The foundation for what the South African defence industry (SADI) should look like and be doing was laid over six years ago but, as with much else with the local defence sector, a lack of funding saw it stagnate.

This is how respected defence and military analyst Helmoed Heitman reacted to Pretoria-based consultant James Kerr’s call last week for an over-arching SADI strategy. Kerr specialises in the aerospace and defence sectors by way of entry strategies along with bid and proposal services.

He maintains the SADI should have three aims/goals. They are a secure and satisfying environment for companies and employees now as well as in the future, based on the SADI, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and employee passion with number two as providing satisfaction to the market now and in the future by way of best in world solutions with elements of country strategic independence and finally, making money now as well as in the future. His rationale to this is to understand aerospace and defence as an economic engine that can provide company as well as country benefits as far as employment, innovation and contribution to the tax base are concerned.

Heitman told defenceWeb he was responsible for a 2017 defence industry strategy, adding “sadly, it’s one of the documents Kerr complains about”. This he explains by stating his draft was a backgrounder “intended to include scene-setting for ministries that would have to buy in but knew nothing about defence or the defence industry”.

“At the time the intention was to have it approved and then turn its part four into the actual strategy document.” This didn’t happen as the entire document was circulated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as the strategy.

Notwithstanding, other work in the form of a first intervention plan was drafted by Heitman in 2018. This looked at – in his words – what was needed or could be done to save the actual defence companies plus a key sub-system provider.

“The second part, looking at other sub-system providers, was not drafted as funding ran out,” and that was that, with nothing further done about the strategy, the intervention plan and the aerospace and defence industry master plan.

Proposals put forward by Heitman included shipbuilding, helicopter development and manufacture of unmanned vehicles in the wider vision, including aerial, surface, sub-surface and ground.

“The master plan was one of six or seven ‘priority’ plans supposed to go directly to the President’s desk. Perhaps it did, but I haven’t seen any follow-up.”

Heitman made mention of the long-delayed SA Defence Industry Lekgotla, first announced in 2022 and apparently planned for mid-that year. The lekgotla is intended to examine challenges faced by the local defence industry, including reduced revenue, red tape, shrinking skills base, challenges at Denel, and reduced local defence spending.

Indications then were up to 200 participants would be part of the lekgotla. Included were the Defence and Military Veterans Minister and Deputy (Thandi Modise and Thabang Makwetla) and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, both Parliamentary defence oversight committees, policymakers, academics and industry representatives. It remains unclear when the lekgotla will be held.

Further reading:

The Aerospace and Defence Industry Masterplan can be found here.

The National Defence Industry Council (NDIC) Defence Industry Strategy can be found here:

Defence Industry Strategy 2020 Cover Page, Foreword and Table of Contents
Defence Industry Strategy 2020 – Part One: Background
Defence Industry Strategy 2020 – Part Two: The Defence Industry – Desired End State
Defence Industry Strategy 2020 – Part Three: The Context for the Defence Industry
Defence Industry Strategy 2020 – Part Four: The Defence Industry of the Future