Carl Zeiss Optronics (CZO) has opened a new periscope manufacture and assembly facility close to the Denel campus at Irene, near Pretoria. The recently-built plant is able to manufacture four to six periscopes per year, the company says, including a new generation periscope for conventional attack submarines now being developed for an export customer.
The new periscope is designed to offer a price-competitive solution for clients who require vital upgrades to their existing fleet of submarines, CZO CE Kobus Viljoen said at the opening yesterday, where the new periscope was also displayed.
The fully-assembled periscope weighs more than 850 kilograms and is fitted with an advance gyro stabilising system that enables it to perform optimally in the roughest possible sea conditions. Speaking at the event, Viljoen said , said South Africa was one of the few countries in the world with the know-how and advanced manufacturing capacity to produce high-quality periscopes for modern submarines.
“With the periscope, submarines are able to observe what is happening outside the water,” he said, adding that the production of the periscope demonstrated the company’s ability to design, develop, manufacture and deliver world class optronics that could be used by navies across the world.
The company is investing R30 million in the new-generation technology. “We have a contract for the new periscope. This production contract is worth at least R70 million.”
Viljoen added the Carl Zeiss group has decided that its South African subsidiary will be its global centre of excellence for traditional hull-penetrating submarine periscopes while its German business will focus on non-hull-penetrating optronic masts. Most modern submarines carry one of each.
CZO says the entire production process is now done in one building including a number of “clean rooms” where the highly-polished glass-optics are fitted into the periscope tube in a pristine environment. More than 70 different components, including lenses, mirrors and prisms are used in each periscope. Once assembled, the periscope is then moved to a 12-metre high tower for final testing and calibration, before being shipped out to international clients.
The official opening of the factory was conducted by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Robert “Rusty” Higgs, a former submariner, who noted CZO’s ability to maintain and upgrade periscopes ensured that “the most advanced technology for fast surveillance and observation will remain readily available” to the South African Navy. CZO periscopes are fitted to the SA Navy’s three Heroine-class submarines. “This will strengthen the capacity of the SA Navy to protect the country’s coastline against intruders and provides it with the assurance that a local company can deliver on one of the most vital parts of a modern submarine.”
Viljoen says the company has a long history in the development and manufacturing of periscopes. It started in 1990 with the former Eloptro division of Denel upgrading periscopes for the SA Navy’s Daphne class submarines. Following the success of that project, Eloptro in 1997 won a contract to upgrade the periscopes of two Type 209 submarines for a South American country.
In 2001, Eloptro and Carl Zeiss of Germany signed a cooperation agreement to jointly develop and manufacture a new periscope to be fitted to submarines then under construction at German shipyards. This cooperation was a result of the acquisition of new submarines by the South African government and the obligatory industrial participation (offset) by foreign companies with the local industry.
A restructuring of the Denel state arsenal saw government offering CZO a 70% stake in what had been Eloptro. Carl Zeiss Optronics (Pty) Ltd was consequently launched in May 2007. Due to the growing business in periscope manufacturing and the closure of the manufacturing plant in Kempton Park (where the former Eloptro had been located), CZO decided to invest in a new facility in Irene.
More than twenty-five periscope assemblies have been successfully delivered to Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH in Germany, from where they are integrated on submarines sailing all over the world.
Viljoen says that the production of the periscope demonstrates the company’s ability to design, develop, manufacture and deliver world-class optronics that can be used by navies across the world.
The business also boosted the South African technology and high-end manufacturing sectors. Over 15 local companies are involved as suppliers of parts and services in the production process – creating more than 100 skilled jobs at CZO and its suppliers.