With little hope of new spending on big military items such as aircraft, the big players at the Africa Aerospace and Defence expo instead set their sights on homeland security — helicopters for use by the police, surveillance equipment and related equipment aimed at border control and protection of key industrial infrastructure.

With the 2010 Soccer World Cup as a catalyst, most of the world’s top armaments suppliers at the expo, which ended on Sunday, shifted their marketing and promotional drive to these “nonmilitary” sectors.

Among those who realise that sub-Saharan Africa forms part of their global growth pattern in an expanding market are Boeing’s defence arm, Saab, BAE and Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS, a global player in aerospace, defence and related services which includes aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

There were 30 countries represented at the expo, with more than 200 exhibitors displaying their wares.

Helmut-Romer Heitman, South African correspondent of Jane’s Defence Weekly agrees that, with an eye on 2010, it is “logical” for companies to home in on border control, homeland defence and national security for which they could supply one system or another.

Heitman says there is not much defence spending expected from SA “any time soon” and it made sense to focus on “other things, like the police”.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is interested in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and there are several on the market, including “mini-models” from ATE, Boeing, and EADS, not to mention South African models.

The Boeing ScanEagle UAV can be launched by catapult, fly for 20 hours and be retrieved on an extended line.

The SAPS is reportedly interested in buying a UAV for every World Cup soccer stadium.

Saab, which is riding on the euphoria of the delivery and commissioning this week of the first four of 26 Gripen fighter aircraft, is also in the queue for new business in a sector it calls “civil security”.

SA, the first country outside Sweden to choose the fighter plane for its air force, has proven to be a shop window for the aircraft.

“We have never seen so much interest in the Gripen,” said Dan-Ake Enstedt, executive vice-president at Saab. Thailand has purchased Gripens, meaning that the Swedish- designed aircraft has beaten American competition for the first time. The Netherlands has also shown interest and the target is to sell more than 200 aircraft by the end of 2010, says Enstedt.

Saab also has on offer what it terms “civil security” options such as air traffic management aviation systems, crisis management and first responders for police and rescue services with domains that cover air traffic management, disaster management, command and control, and communications infrastructure, plus infrastructure security, intelligent systems, border control, and asset and venue protection.

It has also co-developed an “eye-in-the-sky” surveillance system to manage the safety of SA’s large air, sea and land borders.

BAE has a “key facilities protection solution” to detect, deter and delay hostile activity, strengthening the company’s capability over land and sea.

Boeing sees infrastructure support and nation building as “most relevant” and offers “airborne lift, border security, information gathering, coastal defence and data integration” as solutions.

The “one package” it brands as “the perfect team” involves the its C-17 transport aircraft and the Chinook helicopter, says Jeff Johnson, a vice-president for business development.

Heitman agrees the Chinook would be perfect for SA, but questions whether the air force has the foresight to buy these monster flying machines, capable of lifting heavy loads and with the versatility to perform air assault, supply and troop transport, and humanitarian relief and evacuation at locations and altitudes no other aircraft can reach.

On the helicopter front and already with a foot in the door with the SAPS is Eurocopter, which has a fleet maintenance contract for 28 of the force’s various helicopters manufactured by Eurocopter.

The company has highlighted the formation of law enforcement air wings in Botswana and Namibia, which have each bought one helicopter.

PUBLICATION: Business Day
AUTHOR: Chris van Gass
DATED: 23rd September 2008