When the world’s arms makers can’t find a war to generate sales, they’re quite happy to settle for a soccer tournament.

The heavy hitters of the international military industrial complex descended on Cape Town this week to peddle their wares, and 2010 was on many of their lips.

Companies making everything from combat knives and gold-plated shotguns to submarines and fighter jets attended the Africa Aerospace and Defence show, the continent’s premier arms bazaar held every two years in Cape Town.

Few of them mention words like war or death — it’s all about peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and ensuring the 2010 World Cup goes off smoothly.

The soccer tournament is creating dreams of ringing cash registers for companies that include Eurocopter, BAE, Boeing and South Africa’s Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE).

“SA and the UK have similar interests,” said Malcolm Haworth, operations director for the branch of the UK’s Department of Trade and Investment that promotes defence exports.

“You’ve got the 2010 World Cup coming up, we’ve got the Olympics 2012, both of which generate very significant security requirements. We’d like to engage with SA on how we might together meet some of these challenges,” he said.

Haworth said the UK had “a wide spectrum of companies with security expertise, for example scanning equipment”.

“We seem to have turned ourselves into one of the most closely monitored countries in the world, with CCTV cameras on almost every corner. We probably have more, per head of population, than any country in the world,” he said.

But some of the companies hoping to secure 2010-related contracts believe SA is running late in making key decisions about how to handle security around the event.

“2010 is tomorrow,” said Fabrice Cagnat, chief executive officer of Eurocopter Southern Africa, which is expecting the police, emergency services and tourist operators to order more helicopters.

James McLaren of BAE Systems was equally blunt about time frames: “It’s now, 2010 is now. That’s the real key message.”

BAE was exhibiting its Spider command and control system at the show. The software package co-ordinates data from cameras, radar and other surveillance technology and is designed to protect royal palaces, harbours, military bases — or soccer stadiums.

“I’ve had briefings from various people in SA in terms of how they intend to move forward,” McLaren said. “They want to use their experience in the cricket and rugby world cups, but the big difference is the number of people we’re talking about in comparison to rugby and cricket is huge.

“The movement of people into stadiums, into hotels, into transport, will be a huge, huge challenge.”

The Spider system, BAE says, is so simple that an operator can learn to use it in a couple of hours. BAE technical manager Steve Barnes said: “It’s all about getting the simple data to the guys at the top who are making the decisions, in the shortest time possible.

“All these young guys from the PlayStation generation can operate this stuff.”

Several makers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are pitching their products to the police as a relatively cheap, effective way of keeping an eye on crowds. They can be used to fight crime long after the World Cup is over.

The executive deputy chairman of ATE, Peter-Paul Ngwenya, told reporters the company was in the “final stages of negotiation” with the police over the sale of its Kiwit UAV.

But police spokesman Sally de Beer said the company’s announcement was premature. “It’s one of three systems that we’re looking at,” she said. “We’ve also looked at the Desert Hawk (Lockheed Martin) and the Seeker (Denel), and we haven’t even put out a tender yet. ”

De Beer said police wanted to be sure they would be able to use the system for general crime prevention.

“It’s not even a done deal that we’re going to buy any of the three types that we’ve looked at so far. We might look at others as well. (We) don’t want to buy expensive equipment only for 2010, we have to look beyond that,” De Beer said.

AUTHOR: Anton Ferreira
DATED: 21st September 2008