SA military-vehicle servicing firm seeking out African niche

15th June 2007 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African defence company Emerging World Technologies (EWT – formerly Mechanology), part of the Virleo group, of Pretoria, is forging a market for itself among African armies with the provision of not only upgrade kits for armoured and other military vehicles, but also servicing kits for the upgraded vehicles as well.

“African armies operate vehicles from about 50 manufacturers,” points out EWT business develop- ment director major general (retd) Johan Jooste. With many countries operating heterogenous fleets, it is unsurprising serviceability is low.

The company can now provide African armies with complete ser-vicing kits for vehicles, containing everything required, right down to the various required lubricants for each routine service. As a servicing interval approaches, the army concerned can order the appropriate servicing kit (for example, a 5 000-km kit, or a 10 000-km kit), on a scale of one kit for each vehicle.

This obviates the need for an army to buy all the necessary elements separately, and, perhaps, have to store them in hostile environ- ments. Parts and replacement items designed for storage in European climates can deteriorate very rapidly when stored in African conditions. EWT’s kits ensure that the client gets everything needed, when needed – no surplus, no waste.

The company has developed these servicing kits as a follow-up and complement to its refurbishment and upgrade kits. The latter see everything needed to upgrade a specific individual vehicle to a specific standard packaged into a container, which is then shipped to the client country, where the upgrade can then be carried out – there is no need to send the vehicle to South Africa.

The upgrade can be carried out by EWT specialists, or by local specialists, or by a mixture of the two. The company describes this approach as “putting military industrial capability in a box”. Training local personnel to carry out the upgrades is one of the ser-vices the company offers.

It has developed, and is developing, refurbishment and upgrade kits for both South African and foreign vehicles – the Eland armoured car (and the original French Panhard on which the Eland was based), the Ratel infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), the RG-12 internal security/riot control vehicle, the Rinkhals mine-protected vehicle, the British-designed Land Rover, the Russian BTR 60 armoured personnel carrier (APC), and the Brazilian Cascavel armoured car.

The company’s record includes development of the Ratel Mk III upgrade, the Eland Mk VII, refurbishing and upgrading ex-South African Police Service RG-12s for a foreign police force, and doing the same for various clients’ Land Rovers.

The company has supplied Ratel Mk IIIs to five countries. It has also developed the Ratel Mk IV reconfiguration, in which the vehicle’s engine has been relocated and the turret removed, producing a lighter vehicle and turning the Ratel from an obsolete IFV into a credible APC, suitable for high-risk peacekeeping operations.

“We mostly work outside South Africa, as the local market is somewhat overtraded,” explains Jooste. The company has so far sold servicing kits to the armies of Benin and Burkina Faso, both as part of deals in which these countries obtained EWT’s refurbishing and upgrade kits for ex-South African armoured vehicles – Eland armoured cars in both cases. The company currently has tenders out in three other countries.

It has also been involved in Jordan, in cooperation with the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), in projects to upgrade and convert obsolete Centurion tanks into IFVs, and in the development of the Falcon uncrewed tank turret.

“We did a lot of good things with them, but that relationship has now come to an end,” says Jooste. None of the joint projects with the KADDB has passed beyond prototype stage.