Saab command and control system keeps runners safe


Saab Grintek Defence will deploy its Chaka situational awareness and command and control system in the Kalahari Desert in support of the upcoming 250 kilometre long Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM).

In order to ensure that the safety of participants is not compromised, Blue Force Tracking devices, an integrated capability of the Chaka command and control system, will be utilized to track the participants in the marathon as well as support crew and vehicles. This capability provides the organizers with a real time display of the positions of the participants.

The device, in service with customers such as the South African National Defence Force, transmits data via various means of communications to the Chaka display monitored by the organizers and as such provides a positional update of the participants at regular intervals. The capability also provides a history trail which can be displayed whilst the participants are competing or at any time that an after action review is required.

The system could also be utilized to direct medical or other support to a participant’s position if required. This is an immense advantage in the event that a participant has to be evacuated, Saab said.

Chaka will be up and running for the marathon in October – the must-do race for adventure runners and hikers takes place between the 18th and 28th of that month. The 250 kilometre long KAEM desert foot race is modelled on the Moroccan Marathon Des Sables, and takes place annually in the rugged landscape of the Northern Cape’s “Green Kalahari”. The race is a self-sufficiency event held over six legs in seven days, with set distances for each day ranging from 21km to 74km that includes one day/night stage.

Participants are obliged to carry on their backs everything they plan to use or consume for the duration of the event: food, sleeping bag and mat, cooking pots, toiletries, clothes and compulsory safety and survival equipment. Most participants carry 20-30 litre backpacks with starting dry weights ranging from 7-12kg (excluding an additional 2kg of water). Only overnight shelter in rudimentary camps and water, which is strictly controlled and distributed during the race, is supplied.

The route is diverse with landscapes ranging from green vineyards along the Orange River to steep rocky outcrops, gorges, sandy riverbeds and vast open stretches. Temperatures vary from mid 30s up to as high as 50 degrees Celsius during the day to single figures at night.

An additional and significant extreme element and risk factor is that of getting lost in the vast open space of the Kalahari Desert. One of the attractions of the event is the remoteness of its location. But this remoteness goes hand in hand with a complete absence of infrastructure supporting mobile communication. Although the route is clearly marked, every 300 to 400 meters, it is quite possible to become disorientated and lost when one is dehydrated, exhausted and/or running at night. It is for this reason that the organisers turned to Saab Grintek Defence to provide command and control/situational awareness capabilities.

Saab Grintek Defence has been involved with previous editions of the KAEM. Since 2010 the company has supplied equipment and software to support the event. Equipment used includes trackers for athletes and support crews’ vehicles, computer equipment and satellite modems and phones. Saab Grintek Defence uses the event to test new-generation software and trackers in a non-military environment.