Engineering in the tough economic times South Africa is experiencing is not news to the country’s defence sector – both the military and the industry – and a way out via a defence evaluation and research institute (DERI) has been put forwarded by Francois Anderson of the CSIR’s Defence, Peace, Safety and Security (DPSS) unit.
Speaking at the recent Armscor engineering day symposium he said a DERI could develop and retain strategically essential and non-profitable defence technologies, capabilities and facilities with public funding. The primary functions of a South African DERI, following the example of technologically advanced countries such as Australia, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, would be to support the Department of Defence (DoD) in being an informed buyer and user of equipment as well as provide strategically important capabilities to the DoD.
As far back as 2006, decisions regarding a local DERI were taken at Ministerial level. These included it focussing on research, development, testing and evaluation for the DoD. It will be a sector oriented science council, with the sector being defence, for both the national defence force and the local defence industry.
According to the Defence Review (2012 – 2015) “An agile SANDF will need to exploit technology opportunities through rapid technology acquisition, use of civil technologies and infrastructure, rapid adaption and creation of new doctrine and tactics, as well as their implementation”.
The Review, commissioned by then Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and executed under the chairmanship of Roelf Meyer, also pointed out there will be increasing multinational collaboration.
“This requires the concerted development of a strong defence science, engineering and technology (DSET) capability to become a smart buyer of weapon systems, to effectively participate in international collaborative efforts and have the required depth of know-how to support and upgrade technologies.
“Having a strong DSET will further allow the defence force to leverage the capabilities of the national science, engineering and technology spectrum to meet future defence demands,” the Defence Review states.
Anderson’s presentation noted defence technology development in South Africa was underfunded. This in turn led to slow progress for SANDF technology users and only reduced technology maturity levels are available. He would like to see an increased defence technology development budget and “a fully capacitated” armaments technology acquisition secretariat to overcome these effects.
In closing Anderson said there was a need to facilitate and expedite the “complete South African defence innovation chain”. In this chain the national defence force, Armscor, DERI, industry and universities would be mutually supportive, build on each other’s strengths and market the innovation chain to foreign clients.
He pointed to the Meerkat system in use as a successful anti-poaching tool in the Kruger National Park as an example of what can be achieved. This was influenced by an early understanding of user needs which led to successful technology development. A potential follow is for it to be adapted for border safeguarding.