The state the South African defence industry is in was illustrated this week by Zane Cleophas of the National Defence Industry Council (NDIC) who pointed out defence spending dropped a startling R21 billion in 27 years.
Speaking during an Aerospace Africa and Defence (AAD) briefing at AFB Waterkloof on Wednesday, he said employment in what is considered a strategic sector of the South Africa economy last year stood at 15 000. In the 1989/90 financial year 130 000 South Africans were gainfully employed by various defence industry companies, both privately and publicly owned.
In a similarly disconcerting vein was the decrease in research and development funding for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). In 2016 it stood at R850 million, massively down from the R6.1 billion allocated to defence research and development in 1989/90.
On the plus side – for a time – there was what Cleophas called “a dramatic increase” in exports. This, he said is now dipping due to, among others, the passing of the peak of the Afghan and Iraqi wars, more and more mine-resistant armour protected (MRAP) vehicle manufacturers and “too few new products ready for series production”.
“With few orders from its anchor client (the SANDF) and with reduced research and development funding, the export potential will decrease for the lack of new equipment to market.
“This combination brings a real risk of losing much of the present capability,” he warned.
As far as turning the defence industry around he said while defence is generally regarded as “a pure expense or, at best, a form of insurance premium” it can become a productive investment by virtue of its economic role.
He highlighted import replacement, export revenue, employment and expansion of the skills base and the defence industry being a driver of innovation and technology as important contributors to its overall economic role.