“We already produce certain sub-systems – in avionics we produce significant systems – and we will certainly develop other systems,” asserts Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin.
“The Defence Industrial Partici-pation (Dip) and National Industrial Participation (Nip) programmes are all making a positive contribution,” he points out.
Dip and Nip programmes have been generated by the strategic defence re-equipment package in return for orders of fighters, lead-in fighter- trainers, light utility helicopters and now maritime helicopters, while Nip has also resulted from the re-equipment of South African Airways’ (SAA) jetliner fleet.
“The South African aerospace industry is increasingly important and has all the characteristics of a global industry,” says Department of Science and Technology chief operating officer Dr Adi Paterson.
“It is one of the most demanding sectors of South African industry – things have to work because lives depend on them,” he highlights.
“It brings out the best in our engineers and industrial entrepreneurs,” he states.
“I first came here in 1995 and was very impressed by the South African industry we met,” recalls Saab president and CEO Ake Svensson.
“For example, South Africa’s electronic warfare (EW) capabilities are top-class,” he adds.
“We found a very high-tech, very sophisticated industry,” he elucidates.
“The potential of the South African aerospace industry is huge,” argues BAE Systems executive director for South Africa Stuart McIntyre.
“The South African industry has the technology, developed in the past, to form the basis for future development,” he points out.
“Aerospace is a medium to long-term project for DTI,” cautions Erwin.
“We are making contact with all its components, and we have a wide range of components, around our economy,” he explains.
“We’ve started talking to them, creating links,” he adds.
“The basis of a successful aerospace sector is a symbiotic relationship between the industry and the government,” says McIntyre.
“That the government is developing an aerospace development strategy suggests there is political will for this,” he continues.
“Of course, there is more to it than this – a problem is that there is no large local market, so the industry needs access to international markets, and the government seems to be supporting this export orientation,” he surmises.
“The government has been singularly successful with consolidation in other sectors, and Denel is committed to support government initiatives and we will be working very closely with our counterparts locally and internationally, to grow South Africa’s aerospace capabilities,” assures Denel Group CEO Victor Moche.
“This will entail significant skills development and new technology transfer as well as greater teaming, cooperation and workshare,” he highlights.
“Against the background of the very positive sentiments for the industry from both the Department of Defence (DoD) and DTI, I believe that the initiative for the future of the industry must be taken by the industry itself,” affirms Aerosud Group MD Dr Paul Potgieter.
“Incentivisation is important for aerospace, as it was for the motor industry, but while the government can provide incentives, it is up to the industry to structure itself,” he points out.
“Government is only half the solution – the industry is the other half and we need to put these two halves together and create a whole strategy,” he urges.
“And the industry is taking the initiative, for example our company alone has just spent R55-million on capital expenditure, we’ve acquired accreditation from AgustaWestland, Airbus, BAE Systems and Boeing, we’ve secure production contracts from AgustaWestland, Airbus and Boeing, and we’re busy securing others,” he reports.
“We are also deep in discussions with Denel around cooperation on new contracts, the size of which is such that we would need one another to fulfil them,” he reveals.
This would allow either Aerosud or Denel to accept contracts that exceed their individual production capacity, as the surplus would be handled by the other partner.
Aerospace is a sector in which research and development (R&D) and innovation are particularly important, and this is another area in which government incentives would be valuable.
“We need incentivisation, such as tax breaks for technology development and creating jobs – some already exist but they need strengthening,” urges Potgieter.
“The trick will be to get a combination of good incentives, including tax incentives – which are now under discussion – and getting the various institutions to work together,” argues Paterson. Also important is the development of international partnerships and, fortunately, the government is very supportive of foreign participation in the industry.
“We’ll probably be contracting into some of the bigger global projects, both civil and military,” forecasts Erwin.
“It will not always be the case that South Africa will have to buy the finished systems,” he argues.
In this hope, however, Erwin may be too optimistic.
“To get into the big global projects you need to buy into those projects – that’s our experience in Sweden,” he warns.
“If you want to be involved in big programmes to develop new systems, if you want to be part of the development, of drawing up the specifications, your country needs to be a customer for those systems,” he adds.
“Without this commitment, you may only be able to compete on a component or subcomponent level,” he cautions.
Another concern is that the DTI is not the only government department concerned when it comes to aerospace.
The DoD is also deeply concerned about the future, and future development, of the industry, which provides essential support for the South African Air Force. The DoD, through its agency Armscor, oversees the Dip programmes; DTI handles just Nip.
And most South African aerospace companies are mainly involved in defence, and so closer to the DoD than the DTI. Further, State-owned enterprises like the Denel group fall under yet another ministry; Public Enterprises.
So interdepartmental coordination will be essential.
There is no doubt that, after the lean years of the 1990s, the industry is now experiencing a most welcome growth phase.
“The key opportunity framework has been the Dip and Nip programmes,” explains Potgieter.
“We’ve been maximally exploiting these – they are not short-term projects; Aerosud, for example, has five-year contracts with five-year extensions,” he points out.
“Our company has been positioning itself as part of the supply basis of the global companies and we are getting work that is not connected with any South African orders for aircraft,” he reports.
There are more companies operating in the South African aerospace sector than those outside it realise.
Major players include Denel divisions Denel Aviation, Kentron, Eloptro and the Overberg Test Range, and private sector groups Aerospace Monitoring and Systems (AMS), Aerosud, Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE), Grintek subsidiaries Avitronics, Grintek Antennas, Grintek Aviation Systems, Grintek Communications, Grintek Ewation and Logtronics.
Many of them have, thanks to Dip and Nip programmes, developed partnerships with the big international players, such as AgustaWestland, Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and Saab.
Denel Aviation has started licence production of Agusta A109 light utility helicopters, and manufactures the main landing gear units and rear fuselages of Gripen fighters as well as tailplanes for BAE Systems’ Hawk advanced jet trainers and parts for the Boeing 747 and 767 airliners.
Denel Kentron makes missiles, including the Umkhonto naval surface-to-air missile, now on order for the Finnish Navy, and UAVs.
AMS is now the ‘default’ supplier of health-and-usage monitoring systems and flight recorders for all Hawks.
Aerosud is an aeronautical engineering group with a very strong engineering design capability, which undertook the Mirage F1 re-engining programme, has design authority to do design work for the UK arm of AgustaWestland, and produces interior fitting modules, such as galleys, for civil airliners.
The company has secured contracts for aircraft parts manufacture from Airbus, Boeing and AgustaWestland (for Westland helicopters) and others are considered imminent.
ATE does aircraft and helicopter upgrades – it upgraded Mirage F1 fighters for the Spanish Air Force – and is involved in the design, development and integration of the avionics systems for the Rooivalk, and SAAF Hawks, as well as developing an upgrade of the Russian designed and built Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter, reportedly for a North African country, and design and development of the Vulture UAV for the South African Army.
Grintek group products include electronic self-protection systems (Avitronics), high-tech communications and data-transfer equipment (Communications) and communications monitoring and countermeasures equipment (Ewation).
Nor must aeroengine component manufacturer and engine repair and overhaul company Turbomeca Africa – formerly Denel Airmotive – be forgotten.
Turbomeca Africa manufactures engine components for Turbomeca itself as well as Rolls-Royce, General Electric and Volvo and repairs and overhauls certain Snecma, Turbomeca and other engines.
The CSIR is active in the area of aerospace R&D and innovation.
And this list excludes the various companies which undertake the repair, maintenance and overhaul of commercial, business and general aviation aircraft, whether for their own fleets or as services offered to the industry.
Here, the largest players are SAA’s Technical Division and Safair.
Finally, the use of the term ‘aero-space industry’ instead of ‘aviation industry’ is justified by the fact that the country has, indeed, a space component, albeit very small, centred on the microsatellite design and manufacturing capability of SunSpace and Information Systems.
SunSpace is an unlisted proprietary limited company of which the University of Stellenbosch is a shareholder.
It provides products and services in small satellites, building on the expertise developed by the university’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering through its SunSat programme.
SunSat 1 was launched in February 1999 and operated until January 2001, and had a mass of 64 kg, dimensions of 450 mm, 450 mm, 620 mm, and was the first, and so far only, South African satellite to be put into earth orbit.
The company’s product line is headed by the SunSpace 180 microsatellite, which is available in various configurations, although the basic version comprises the satellite bus itself and an imager payload, and has dimensions of 720 mm, 685 mm and 685 mm.
The satellite design is based on the flight-proved Sunsat technology and know-how.
The 180 satellite bus is also available on its own as a platform for available imager or communications payloads.
A satellite bus could be described as the orbital vehicle, consisting of the structure, solar panels, batteries, power system, attitude control system and associated sensors, onboard computer and communications system, upon or in which the payload is mounted.
SunSpace also offers satellite subsystems such as imagers, a star camera, magnetorquer, deployable arm and an X-band transmitter. “The South African aerospace industry is in safe hands politically, energetic hands economically, and already has the necessary international partnerships,” argues McIntyre.
“What’s left is the need to make the transition to a fully private-sector industry,” he states.
“This requires a very thorough review of the manufacturing efficiency and cost base of the industry,” he adds.
“Without this, the industry will always struggle to compete against hungry rivals in the rest of the world,” he warns. “I’m optimistic about the future of our industry over the next five years, but we face two key challenges,” asserts Potgieter.
“One is to fight our way into the global aeronautical industry – we’re becoming part of the global supply chain but we don’t own the proprietary rights for many of the products we make as they are designed elsewhere,” he cites.
“And second, our top engineers and technologists are an ageing generation and, if we don’t do something to replace them, we’ll lose expertise and regress,” he emphasises.
“We in Denel are confident of success in the medium term, with business transformation, and we will also address the country’s developmental requirements, mainly skills development and transform-ation,” concludes Moche.