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Jun 20, 2003

Defence electronics group winning global stripes

© Reuse this South African defence electronics company Avitronics, 51%-owned by Grintek and 49% by Saab, of Sweden, is certainly establishing itself as a global player in a highly competitive industry.

“What makes us unique is our very broad technological capability, from microwave to optics, analogue and digital, software, packaging, and production, which allows us to be far more flexible than our competitors and to make inte- grated systems,” says company MD Ben Ash.

“From the price-performance point of view, we’re the best on the market,” he asserts.

“For example, our ability to develop our own microwave systems allows us to customise our projects at a very low price,” he points out.

“Our multisensor warning system (MSWS) is the only fully-integrated such system in the world – all the others are federated, that is composed of systems and subsystems from a number of companies,” he reports.

The MSWS is designed for use in all categories of aircraft – rotary and fixed wing, combat and transport – and is a modular system that provides advanced electronic warfare self- protection, and warns the aircrew if their aircraft has been detected by radar, or laser systems, or if a missile is approaching them.

In production since 1997 and continuously upgraded, the MSWS has been, or is being, installed in the following aircraft – AgustaWestland A-109 and Super Lynx 300, BAE Systems Hawk 100, Denel Aviation Oryx and Rooivalk, Eurocopter Cougar, Puma and NH-90, and Lockheed Martin C-130B and C-130H Hercules.

“Another of our products that is unique is our miniaturised electronic surveillance payload for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs),” he adds.

The payload has a total mass of 16 kg, divided into a controller and an antenna array.

The payload on the UAV acquires and analyses radar emissions and then transfers this information via a datalink to a ground-based remote terminal for display.

The remote terminal also controls the system and the UAV.

“Our customers give us feedback on the operational performance of our systems, which allows us to update and upgrade them,” explains Ash.

“Even just participating in an evaluation by a potential customer teaches us a lot, whether or not our product is chosen,” he adds.

The company’s increasing success is marked by its growing roll of employees and backed by the company’s increasing in-house research and development (R&D) budget.

In June 1999 the company had 182 staff members and was overmanned.

It now has 385, including 66 new posts created this year, and the company plans to create a further 60 new jobs next year.

“About 60% to 70% of our people are highly skilled and around a quarter of our staff are involved in product development, some of which is funded by the customer, some by Saab and some internally by us,” reveals Ash.

“More and more, we’re doing our own funded R&D and we’re growing our joint R&D with Saab, which we fund together,” he elucidates.

The company has benefited significantly from both direct and indirect defence industrial participation (Dip) from South Africa’s strategic defence re-equipment programme.

“For example, it was cooperation with Saab through Dip that led to shared R&D and Saab’s taking nearly a half share of the company, and this, in turn, opened international markets to us,” says Ash.

“The relationship with Saab opened many minds to the fact that a South African company can produce high-quality advanced technology products,” he explains.

The company won a contract with the Swiss Air Force for its helicopter self-protection system as a direct result of its part-ownership by Saab.

Indirect Dip has also brought Avitronics orders from Greece, South Korea, Sweden and an undisclosed customer for the Super Lynx 300.

Ash is “pretty bullish” about the company’s future.

“We have a growth strategy for the next five years and I expect we’ll more than double in size in terms of both volume and people,” he concludes.
Edited by: Keith Campbell
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
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