Captain Nic Marais, the project officer for the Navy’s Xena programme says the drive to equip the Maritime Reaction Squadron with suitable patrol boats, camping equipment and a command, control and communications (C3) infrastructure is on track.
Marais says the prototype Xena boat exceeded expectations during trials on reed-choked Zeekoeivlei on the Cape Flats , while the C3 system, developed by Saab Grintek, also surpassed specifications.
The R72 million project thus consists of five parts:
· The boat system consisting of the boats themselves, trailers for the boats and a floating jetty.
· Command, control & communications (C3I)
· The base camp.
Marais says the prototype Xena boat, delivered late last year, passed all sea and brown water trials successfully. The boat was tested on False Bay and Zeekoeivlei over December and January and showed itself to be a “capable workhorse.”
The Navy has since ordered four more boats and returned the prototype to Veecraft Marine for upgrading to the operational standard, which features a larger and more habitable cabin. “We found the prototype cabin was too small,” he says.
“The boat is quite stable and can take rougher seas than the Namacurra class”. It is also faster when carrying the same load: 29 knots with 13 people, full equipment and fuel. Marais says the boat will happily carry three crew and eight passengers or 1.3mt of cargo. The design was for 1mt.
Marais says the contractor`s eyes stood looked like saucers when the boat was tested on the vlei. It easily navigated shallows and sandbanks and was not daunted by heavy vegetation. During one test it cut through 140m of Spanish Reed at 10knots.
The boat development is a major success story,” he says. Trailers for the boats have been designed by LMT Engineering and are under construction to be delivered by end-April. The jetty was delivered by Bateman Engineering and tested and is now in store.
The Navy`s requirement remains 16 boats. It is expected these will be acquired when funds are available.
Command, control & communications (C3I)
The C3I system has also exceeded expectations, Marais says. The Saab Grintek Communications-made system is entirely local technology and fits into three standard ISO 6m containers.
“The radio communications exceeded specifications by far. That is also good news,” Marais said. He adds the HF loop antenna fitted to the boats “is phenomenal” and he is still “trying to work out the physics” of how the boat crew, using HF format, were able to talk to an Army call sign in the Kruger National Park and to a radio operator at Naval Station Durban on the same frequency.
The boats and base are equipped with radios operating in the HF, VHF and UHF band as well as satellite.
The Action Information System and its radar interface is also fully operational and was capable of executing real-time tracking of the boat on False Bay from Saab`s Centurion (Pretoria) facility.
The base camp, transport and armament
The transport component of Toyota Hilux bakkies and some large 10mt flatbed trucks have also been delivered. A number of forklift trucks will arrive in April, Marais says.
The base camp is also taking shape. The Warrior tents, made by Canvass & Tent (Pty) Ltd have been delivered, the water and sanitation system as well. The galley and ablution facilities are still awaited.
The base camp is a “small transportable town,” says Marais that fits into 33 6m containers. The main contractor, RCS, is providing Warrior tentage for accommodation as well as maintenance and recreation. “This is very important to the troops”.
Marais expressed himself satisfied with the conduct of his vendors. “I`ve got good contractors,” he says. Armament remains a problem, however. This part of the project is still in the “beg, borrow and steal” mode.