While not officially on the BRICS Summit agenda, the South African defence sector grasped the bull by the horns by arranging a specialist seminar and exhibition on the side of the main event in Durban this week.
An indication of the importance the local defence industry views the five nation grouping (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) came from the fact that the seminar was officially opened by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
“We felt it necessary to use the advantage of having many of our counterparts present to start an initiative beneficial to all partners. It can be extended to formal BRICS structures in future,” she said.
According to Mapisa-Nqakula, one of BRICS overall aims to is to build synergies and intensify co-operation to enhance stability, development and security not only in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa but in the rest of the developing world as well.
Local defence industry companies who exhibited under the lead of the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) and the Department of Trade and Industry’s Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) were DCD Protected Mobility, Denel, Paramount Group, Reutech Communications, Reutech Radar systems, Rheinmetall Denel Munitions, Saab Grintek Defence, Tellumat and Thorax. The CSIR’s defence, peace, safety and security research area also exhibited.
Yesterday evening, to coincide with the BRICS Summit, Denel Aviation and Russian Helicopters opened the first African maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Kempton Park for Russian rotorcraft.
“It is South Africa’s considered view that one area representing real and immediate benefit is collaboration at defence industry level,” Mapisa-Nqakula said, adding that a proposal would be made for the establishment of a BRICS defence working group.
The Minister outlined five objectives she felt would assist in making such a working group viable.
These are improved strategic relationships at country to country level as well trilateral as with IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and the overall five nation grouping; confirming BRICS is a framework that can accommodate collaborative defence projects; identifying minimum requirements for collaborative defence projects in BRICS; exploring and identifying areas for collaboration and establishing joint ventures.
India, Brazil and South Africa have a number of collaborative ventures in the defence sector underway. These include radar and missile technology, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and electronic warfare. The A-Darter air-to-air missile programme with Brazil is one of the biggest joint ventures.
“We are proud of what has been achieved to date at trilateral level and remain committed to success,” she said, adding any new initiatives from the BRICS defence working group would “not replace, nullify or inadvertently compromise” gains made at either bi- or trilateral country level.
Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out that demands on defence forces internationally continued to grow and become more complex.
“In the light of this we are not going to stand and watch as political instability and unrest continue to threaten efforts to build a better and safer continent and world. The military is also increasingly becoming the leading agent in humanitarian relief and restoration of infrastructure during and after disasters.
“On the other hand, governments and defence industries are under pressure to ensure fast advancement in innovations responsive to both human development and security needs.
“These are some common underlying factors that BRICS should develop joint responses to. This initiative is a step in that direction,” she said.