Ivor Ichikowitz, founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group, has appealed for local defence contractors and manufacturers to work together – locally and internationally – to ensure the future sustainability of the South Africa defence industry.
Speaking at the inaugural combat aircraft conference held at the African Aerospace and Defence 2018 arms fair at Waterkloof Air Force Base late last month, Ichikowitz said the reality for the defence industry internationally was that the world was undergoing massive disruption.
“We have Trump in the White House, Rocket Man in the Far East; the world is totally different than what it was six months ago. The world has gone mad. The defence industry has to be in a different place than where it was even a month ago.”
His company, he said, had become now the continent’s largest private aerospace and defence company, precisely because of its ability to do things differently with defence companies in other parts of the world.
“We started (Paramount) with the objective to make a difference to where Africa was going, not simply to make money.
“We all do things differently in Africa. Here innovation starts with an issue that needs to be solved. When we started the reality was there were more countries in Africa in conflict than those without conflict. Here in South Africa, we had one advantage, a base of human capital,” he said.
These were people who could strengthen and defend democratic institutions. But it wasn’t easy as the defence industry during apartheid had become self-sufficient to the point of insularity.
“The old mindset was that we had to do everything ourselves, we isolated ourselves from the world,” said Ichikowitz. It was then that he had his epiphany: “I woke to the realisation that you don’t have to own the cow to drink milk. Instead of doing a lot of little things badly, let’s rather do fewer things better.
“Now in this time of global craziness, we all have to start thinking differently. The time has come for South Africa to take its place in the global aerospace industry and all talk about collaboration.”
Partnerships had to be the new normal, he said, to create a sustainable local defence industry or render South African defence companies irrelevant.
“South Africa’s greatest asset is that we are a non-aligned country, we can service the entire world because of that – something that our strategic partners might not be able to do, but which we can offer them. We can be force multipliers for each other.”
His own company had done just that, he said, announcing three new partnerships during AAD 2018 with Italian defence contractor and manufacturer Leonardo to provide the SWIFT (Smart Weapons Integration for Fast jets and Trainers) platform for its new M-345 jet trainer and Singaporean owned defence company ST Engineering, with which it has co-designed the 10 variant Belrex protected combat support vehicle based on its Marauder mine protected ambush resistant vehicle.
“These are the partnerships that will take us into the next generation of business,” he said.
Paramount also revealed a partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that will focus on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as electronic warfare, and has partnered with companies to offer their UAVs with Paramount weapons and systems. It follows a similar approach with its FLASH helicopter weapon/sensor suite that draws on systems provided by over a dozen partner companies.
Paramount has partnership agreements or memoranda of understanding with some 100 companies around the world, including defence giants such as Boeing.