Under-funding as well as political and economic turmoil carry a unique set of opportunities for the SA defence-related industry according to Chairman of the Board of Directors of Denel Dynamics, Major General (retired) Otto Schür.
“Tides are turning, and there is place for a positive outlook,” says Schür who points towards South Africa’s instinctive resolve to survive. “Look at our local defence industry. We went from a country that built small arms and ammunition to a reputable missile & UAV systems house. We are respected as a world leader in artillery and even dabbled in space and nuclear technology, all within a twenty year period.”
Xhead = SA at the front-end of skills base
Denel Dynamics, innovators of competitive missile and UAV solutions, mirrors this position of leadership and top-end skills with a gutsy determination, not only to survive but to be world-class. “Technical innovation, high-level skills and business survival are major drivers within Dynamics,” says Schür. “There is clearly a passion for the unique work our employees are doing here despite an urgency for the organisation to move from a wholly state-owned enterprise to a sustainable and profitable going concern, capable of providing the RSA SANDF with its strategic needs while being part of the global defence scene.”
Carl Zeiss Optronics, previously Denel Optronics before mid 2007, is testament to how tough odds can be turned around. The previously struggling local business independently secured some 100 work packages from Europe in its first year under new management while improving the volume of key exports exponentially, both strong indicators that its skills and resources are competitive and that it can become a sustainable business in the global context.
Xhead = Lower budgets inspire lateral thinking
Schür says as a country positioned at the tip of Africa, we will never be blessed with ample financial resources to fund defence. “But a little country tucked away we are not,” says Schür. He points out that South Africa was the first country in the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall, whose government cut its defence budget by half as a clear peace dividend. This ‘peace mode’ post 1989 drove SA to push the limits of innovation in order to stay in business. In that time Denel Dynamics developed the Umkhonto-IR vertically launched SAM, the Umbani PGM and the Seeker II UAV system, to name but a few. “The country had no choice but to come up with new products that could compete effectively in a sector that was grossly oversupplied. It forced us into a completely different mindset, and we did it successfully.” This year will be no different.
“Today at Denel Dynamics we have the right people for the right time. We moved from a high-risk defence business environment in the 1990s to a stable future in all three of Dynamics’ domains – missiles, UAVs and Integrated Systems Solutions. We are recognised internationally and we see clear pathways towards sustainability. Denel Dynamics is geared for opportunity and challenge.”