SA defence industry out in force at Exercise Vuk’uhlome 2023

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The South African defence industry showed its mettle at the Army’s Exercise Vuk’uhlome Distinguished Visitors Day on 22 November, not only exhibiting its solutions but taking part in the exercise’s capability demonstration at the Northern Cape Combat Training Centre.

The previous edition of the SA Army’s largest division-level exercise in 2022 featured a large exhibition area for the defence industry to showcase its products and services, and this format was repeated at the Mount Huxley Hills location used for the 2023 edition, which saw some 14 000 troops and hundreds of vehicles take part.

In the static display area, Paramount showcased its Mbombe 4 and new Maatla armoured vehicle, while DCD Protected Mobility displayed its new Springbuck weapons carrier variant, fitted with an ZSU-23 anti-aircraft artillery system. Also on the armoured vehicle front, OTT Solutions had its Ratel Service Life Extension Programme on display. Safomar Technologies had a couple of unmanned aerial vehicles as well as the Bluevec counter-drone solution available for guests to view, and Rheinmetall had a showcase of its ammunition range, from hand grenades to artillery rounds.

Other companies with representation included Reutech, Sandock Austral, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), TAU Aerospace, and Hensoldt, which mounted its Bushbaby surveillance gimbal on an SVI Max 3 armoured vehicle. Global Command and Control Technologies had its command and control, navigation and blue force tracking systems fitted to DCD Springbuck vehicles.

Vuk’uhlome 2023 also featured heavy participation from the South African defence industry in the exercise itself. DCD’s Springbuck HD and Springbuck XD armoured vehicles took part in the capability demonstration, while SVI contributed its Max 3 six-wheeler and Max 9 armoured personnel carriers. The Max 3 was fitted with a Thales Scorpion 81 mm automated mortar, which fired old stock SANDF mortar bombs that had been refurbished by Rheinmetall Denel Munition. The Max 9 was fitted with a Reutech remotely operated machinegun on the roof, and this fired at ‘enemy’ targets on the Lohatlha range.

The Denel Land Systems Badger infantry fighting vehicle is meant to partially replace the Ratel, and Vuk’uhlome 2023 saw the two vehicle types working alongside each other during exercise attacks on 22 November, as Denel brought several different Badger variants to the North Cape training ground. A Badger combat ambulance was used to simulate the transfer of wounded from the battlefield. Denel also had a couple of its RG-series armoured vehicles on display (RG21 and RG31).

Exercise Vuk’uhlome was meant to mark the end of trials of armoured personnel carriers for use by the South African National Defence Force on border patrol, but evaluations have been postponed to January 2024. Armscor had in January this year released a request for information, with evaluation scheduled for October/November. Of those companies that responded positively, DCD offered its Springbuck series; Denel its RG21, RG31 and RG32M; OTT Solutions is Puma M36 Mk 6; Milkor its 4×4 APC, AIH/ICP the Reva V; Paramount its Maatla; and SVI its Max 3.

National Treasury has allocated nearly R1 billion to improve SANDF border security capabilities over the next three years. In the medium term, troop pack vehicles (over 400 were originally acquired) will be replaced with off-the-shelf vehicles and R500 million will be spent in 2024/25 for this. Armscor had originally hoped by the end of the year to decide which vehicle is best and how many the SA National Defence Force can afford before issuing a request for proposals, but it appears the timeline has been pushed back.

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