BAE Systems says the government should reconsider its options for Project Hoefyster, the South African Army’s quest for a new-generation infantry fighting vehicle. The company,’s Land Systems SA (LSSA) unit, better known as “OMC”, says its RG41 is more modern and cheaper than the locally-customised version of the Patria AMV currently slated for production as the “Badger”.
“Technology has evolved significantly in the years since Project Hoefyster was first launched,” LSSA managing director Johan Steyn says. “It makes sense then to look at newer solutions such as [the] RG41 now available, which largely meet the technical requirements and could provide cost savings and broader economic benefits for the country.”
Hoefyster was registered as a project in 1997. Early reports speculated that the MOWAG Piranha IV was a shoo-in for the deal, as OMC had then just been bought out by Vickers Defence Systems – a British concern – that had licensing rights to the Piranha IV. Counter-speculation at the time favoured the Piranha III, currently in use by the US Army as the Stryker basis for the armoured personnel carrier (APC).
News of local developments came at African Aerospace and Defence 2002, when Dr Stefan Nell’s Land Mobility Technologies (LMT) company proposed a family of 6×6 and 8×8 vehicles built to a common design. Nell told the author at the time the 8×8 would be the basis of the new ICV while the 6×6 variant – identical in all respects bar the fourth axle – would serve as armoured personnel carrier for the motorised infantry. As such it could then replace the aging Casspir and Mamba APCs. Both designs, dubbed “Honeyguide” after a local bird, made maximum use of commercial-off-the-shelf technology. An electric drive proposal was also on the drawing board. Nell was adamant that the Army preferred a local solution rather than an import. Talk at the show was that a decision on a preferred “Hoefyster” design to be further engineered and developed would be made in January 2003.
It is not clear if such a decision was made. It appears that at least four domestic companies, including LMT, OMC and the Mechanology Design Bureau (MDB) were given seed money to develop prototypes. In early 2004 it was reported that the LMT design had victored. All were 8×8 designs designed to carry the Denel LCT35 turret specified for the design. Scarcely had the news filtered out when Armscor, the arms acquisition agency, re-opened the competition and called on local and international companies to tender for the deal.
The Request for Proposals (RfP), reference number MFT/2003/564, asked eight South African companies and four international defence contractors to put forward ideas and quotes by February 25, 2005. Domestic companies asked to tender were state arms manufacturer Denel as well as private companies LMT, Benoni-based OMC, IST Dynamics, Industrial and Automotive Design SA, MDB, Advanced Technologies & Engineering of Midrand, Grintron and Intertechnic. The four overseas contractors approached were GIAT Industries of France, Mowag Motorwagenfabrik AG of Switzerland and the pan-European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Company (EADS). The South African companies in particular were keen to bid and happily showed off their ideas to selected journalists.
But, in February 2005, when the bids were due, only one was received, from a consortium involving Patria of Finland, Patria’s part-owner, EADS, Denel, OMC and Land Mobility Technologies (LMT). The vehicle the group proposed was Patria’s 8×8 Armoured Modular Vehicle (AMV), as redesigned for southern African conditions by LMT. The vehicle hulls were to be built by OMC and the turrets as well as guns would be provided by Denel.
Questioned in 2005 about the paucity of bids, then-Department of Defence’s (DoD) chief of acquisition and procurement, Bruce Ramfolo said the tender process followed on their behalf by Armscor was sound and “neither Armscor nor DoD are able to force any industry to participate.” Ramfolo did not directly answer a question on why a foreign hull was preferred to a local design, saying instead that “no decision regarding the bid has been made and therefore no decision on the design has been made.”
In May 2007 then-Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin announced in his budget vote that the Army had awarded DLS a R8.4 billion contract to acquire 264 locally-engineered Patria AMV in five variants: section carrier, command, mortar, support and anti-tank. A R1.048 billion order to develop a prototype of each was awarded later that same month. One of each is currently undergoing evaluation. Once accepted by the military, 12 pre-production vehicles will be built. The first 37 production vehicles will be built by Patria in Finland.
In December 2010 the Ministry of Public Enterprises said the “Department of Defence will make the decision on whether or not to proceed with the Industrialisation and Production Phase before the end of 2010/11,” a reference to the state financial year ending this month.
Rumours regarding the demise of the programme have circulated for years, driven in part by a lack of news on the project and apparently interminable delays. South African Army director strategy Brigadier General Eddie Drost in November last year told the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans landward renewal – a stated top priority for the DoD – “is not coming to fruition” with most projects “on hold because of cost escalation”. He did not say whether this included Hoefyster.
Showing the RG41 to the media yesterday, Steyn said the RG41 is a clean-sheet design and “is more cost effective than its global competitors.” The wheeled armoured combat vehicle was unveiled at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris last June and boasts what BAE Systems says is a unique modular mine protected design that allows field repair to the hull – not just to the suspension and driveline.
The company says the lower hull structure of the RG41 consists of five modular units joined together and bolted under the top structure of the vehicle. Any damaged modules can be removed and replaced individually with prefabricated replacement sections. This task can be completed by second line maintenance in an operational theatre, saving time and money, said Dennis Morris, President of Global Tactical Systems, the BAE Systems business unit Land Sytems South Africa and OMC answers to. “The RG41 offers exceptional protection, capability and flexibility,” Morris added. “Current conflicts require maintenance and repairs be done in the field and the RG41’s unique design allows operators to achieve their missions while maximising vehicle operational readiness. RG41 represents the ultimate synthesis of combat power and affordability, ideal for conventional and unconventional units,” he added in a media statement issued in Paris.
The RG41 is 7.78m long, 2.28m wide and 2.3m high with 14.9 cubic metres of usable cabin space. Its mass is 19 000kg and the payload 11 000kg, meaning the new 8×8 can carry a range of light and medium turrets as well as direct and indirect-fire weapons. Steyn says the design is easy to customise and can be configured as a command vehicle, section combat vehicle, ambulance, engineering vehicle, fire support vehicle or according to customer specification. Steyn adds the vehicle can easily take the various turrets developed by DLS for Hoefyster. He added the company’s intent was “to supply the weapon platform only” in support of DLS as the level-5 prime contractor.
The vehicle’s local comment is more than 70% and would benefit around 100 local suppliers if ordered. An estimated 2000 jobs could be created, he added.
The RG41 project started in 2008 at company expense “to meet the ever-increasing demand for mine protected vehicles in the modern combat environment”. The company, in product notes, say the 8×8 is a development of previous LSSA prototypes and “benefits from many years of development experience.” Officials add designers had no specific customer in mind for the company-funded development. “The design uses RG series technology which has been combat proven around the world in numerous different environments.” Steyn says some R25-30 million has been spent prototyping and qualifying the vehicle. The end result is a vehicle 10-20% cheaper than the international constitution. “The price of a vehicle starts on the drawing board, not the factory floor,”Steyn added.
DLS would not immediately comment on the matter, saying it might call a media briefing next week. Ish Moeketsi, Senior Manager: Strategic Relations at DLS said the suggestion that government not order the AMV-derivative was an “over-simplification of a much broader and complex contracting process that obviously began long time ago of which the third party was aware of. In order to give credibility and fairness to these incorrect perceptions, it will be appropriate for Denel to give correct facts so that this could result in a balanced perspective.”