Opinion: SA Defence Solutions Centre – An Alternative SADI Future


There have been a few documents presented in the last few years that are aiming to address the decline of the South African defence industry. Ultimately, the defence industry wants to be a significant contributor to the country’s prosperity. There is a desire to grow the South African defence capability and related industry. This growth is going to be mainly export based. Achieving success in international defence markets is a long-term effort and barring significant market discontinuities it should not be necessary to regularly change an agreed upon Strategy.

In recent years the competitive intensity in the international defence marketplace has increased significantly, with customers requiring their defence spending to make a significant contribution to their own national economies and priorities. The market is now customer led, with many international buyers aspiring to develop their own indigenous capability. This necessitates developing flexible offers, beyond simple exports, with industrial collaboration/cooperation and technology transfer being increasingly critical elements of the overall proposition. Therefore, to retain sovereign capability, freedom of action, operational advantage and indigenous capacity it is clear that a joint and integrated Government-Industry approach to capability, technology, export and international partnerships is vital.

The first key elephant in the room that is not sufficiently addressed in South Africa is that there is a lack of government support for the defence industry. The flip side of this is for government to ask what should we be doing.

There are thus two conflicting elements. The South African defence industry would like government support, but the South African defence industry do not want government meddling.

The second key elephant in the room is that the defence industry sector is a competitive space. This means that there is a survival aspect driving each individual company.

This provides two additional conflicting elements. The South African defence industry would like to grow as a whole, but no company wants to give away any company unique market knowledge competitive edge.

The question is then has any other country managed to overcome a similar set of challenges, and have they published information that South Africa could use a road map for a future growth initiative? The best answer that I could find is the United Kingdom Defence Solution Centre (UKDSC) that was set-up as part of the implementation for the Defence Growth Partnership (DGP). The DGP is a strategic partnership between UK government, industry and academia. The DGP was established to help secure the future of the UK defence industry in response to highly competitive market dynamics.

The UK defence industry has a broad industrial base formed of a wide range of companies with specialist skills and industrial capabilities. These range from Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), to sub-systems and system providers, and from prime systems integrators to support and services providers. As well as possessing an advanced manufacturing base, UK firms have a strong pedigree in their ability to solve complex problems, often furthering and pushing the boundaries of science and technology. Moreover, it is commonplace for defence activity to draw from, and provide benefit to, research and development in other sectors.

It is very easy to supplant UK with SA in the above paragraph extracted from the UK DSC Strategy document.

The UKDSC addresses the four SA defence industry conflicting elements identified with the following guidelines.

The UKDSC operates in the pre-competitive space and is impartial; The UKDSC is not a commercial entity, cannot take contracts and is not subject to undue commercial influences or pressures; The UKDSC does not advocate any specific company or teaming to customers; The UKDSC facilitates a holistic “Team UK” approach involving the UK defence enterprise; namely Government, the defence industry and academia working collectively to identify and deliver solutions to international customers’ needs; The UKDSC furthers its goals through dialogue, influence and persuasion.

The UKDSC Strategy document is short, with the eventual outcome of the following strategy that could quite easily be tailored to South African needs.

Vision: A trusted and impartial centre of defence expertise operating in the pre-competitive space, innovating to help shape and satisfy customers’ defence requirements through strong international partnerships and cooperative efforts.

Mission: To enable the UK defence enterprise to succeed in international markets through strategic partnerships.

The vision and mission is based on the three integrated elements of Market Intelligence, Capability Alignment, and Innovation & Investment.

Market Intelligence: Developing superior customer understanding through objective evidence-driven, strategic market intelligence and analysis.

Capability Alignment: Facilitating the alignment of UK and international future capability needs, and promoting international collaboration.

Innovation and Investment: Improving the value of UK investment and innovation in the development of defence capability.

Value Proposition: A unique and impartial team positioned to further deepen the partnership between the UK government and the defence industry to enhance international value and increase prosperity.

SA Defence Solutions Centre

SA defence industry (AMD/SAAMDEC), government (DTIC) and academia (SIGLA) can be Better Together by watching out for each other, caring for others in the sector and supporting local and regional networks.

An SA DSC can be the entry into an entrepreneurial approach that is a “pragmatic, affordable and focused response”.

Re-establish a base that is convenient, fit and comes at the right time.

Check out the UKDSC Strategy document here.

Written by James Kerr, Orion Consulting CC, which provides Market Entry Strategy and Bid & Proposal services to the Aerospace & Defence related industry and assists international SME mission system product suppliers to gain traction in South Africa. Kerr has assisted various companies to enter, or expand footprint in, the defence industry with air, land and naval systems. He also served as a navigator, and completed an engineering degree, while in the South African Air Force for 13 years.