Hungarian trade delegation talks defence with SA


A recent visit by a Hungarian trade delegation led by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Laszlo Szabo, has discussed defence cooperation with South Africa. Hungary has shown interest in the Rooivalk as a replacement for its Soviet-era attack helicopters.

During its visit last week, the delegation expressed interest in cooperation with the South African defence industry, both for its own sake and as a gateway to Africa. The delegation discussed increasing future co-operation in defence as well as other areas and discussed their mobile hospitals, which could have military uses as well.

Dr Szabó (no relation to the author) said: “A quite important step forward was taken in border management. We built the world’s longest border protection fence between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, 1,000 kilometres long. It is a high-tech fence, made by a small Hungarian family-run company and it works on motion-sensing technology. Clearly, this can be combined with other technologies.”

The security fence is built by Umirs Ltd, based in Budapest and members of the delegation said their South African opposite numbers expressed interest in using the fence to protect wildlife reserves, such as the Kruger National Park. The fence uses a combination Infrared (IR) and high frequency microwave sensors as well as IP digital cameras integrated into computer systems. If a breach attempt is made, the system sets off an alarm, so cutting, climbing it or other attempts to cross it are countered. The fence is able to distinguish between humans and animals, which would be very useful in a wildlife reserve environment. The deputy minister stressed the fence was very cost-effective, an advantage in Hungarian products.

Dr Szabó said major French companies, as well as countries including Tunisia and Brazil, were making enquiries into Umirs Ltd., as well as other similar high-tech companies.

Another area of cooperation might be Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Hungarian companies have been working on UAV technology for some time, as have South African firms. Hungarian companies like Explico, Currus and HMEI all produce UAVs, among many others. The Hungarian Commercial and Economic Attaché, Attila Erd?s, explained that the main thrust of the Hungarian UAV technology included mapping, surveying, disaster management and border defence. He added that the technology exists for using UAVs in target acquisition and target practice.

In addition, the deputy minister stressed Hungary has excellent capabilities in upgrading and repairing former Soviet equipment, from automatic rifles to armoured vehicles, something which is very useful in Africa.

Hungary needs to replace its fleet of seven Russian-built Mil Mi-24 ‘Hinds’, which reached the end of the service lives in 2012, as well as its 27 (including 18 in storage) Mil Mi-8 ‘Hip’ transport helicopters.

Denel Aviation has offered the Rooivalk as a potential replacement for countries looking for attack helicopters and has suggested a technology transfer and joint manufacturing programme to countries aligned to South Africa. The Hungarian Defence Ministry and Cabinet must first follow the correct procedures to turn the discussion into an agreement, but the interest exists.

Because Hungary’s currency, the Forint, like the Rand, is weak, Hungary is seeking alternatives to expensive Western equipment, in this case, attack helicopters.

Denel is looking for co-development and co-manufacturing with partner countries to further develop Rooivalk exportability. Earlier this year Denel indicated it was in discussions with Armscor and the Department of Defence on upgrading the aircraft in line with the recommendations of the Defence Review, which will influence force design and funding.

In July Denel Group CEO Riaz Saloojee said the Rooivalk may be upgraded or a new attack helicopter developed, based on the Rooivalk. Both the South African and foreign militaries, such as Brazil, have expressed interest in restarting production.

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is on record saying that the Rooivalk needs to be re-established as a strategic sovereign capability for use in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Saloojee on an earlier occasion said that the Rooivalk roadmap involves examining the feasibility of restarting production, looking at technology improvements and finding partners. He said that it will be “essential” to find an international partner and that Denel was in discussion with a number of countries in this regard.

Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe has said that it is possible to re-establish the production line provided a minimum order quantity, estimated at between 75-100, is achieved to make the programme economically viable. Thus Hungary would have to order a substantial number of Rooivalks or take part in a joint bulk order with other customers.