Defence, aerospace push R&D

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 18 Sept 2008

The hi-tech defence and aerospace sectors have a positive impact on SA's research and development (R&D) spending, says defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota.

Speaking at the opening of this year's Africa Aerospace and Defence show, in Cape Town, he said: "This is evident in the phenomenal rise of the global aviation industry driving the very latest developments in modern aircraft, with related maintenance and support services."

Lekota reminded his audience that Africa "is heavily reliant on air transport for its continued social and economic development".

"For us, therefore, the South African aerospace industry has become a high priority sector, and we envisage to follow a growth and consolidation path similar to that of SA's automotive industry, which has had phenomenal success."

The minister says government recognised this some time ago and last year launched three initiatives to boost innovation and skills development in the sector.

"The first was the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative, to enhance the South African aerospace industry's global competitiveness," noted Lekota.

"This is aimed at providing a broad framework encompassing the development of supply-chain, human resources and skills, as well as production and process engineering. This programme - managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research - also looks at small and medium enterprises/black economic empowerment development and technology consolidation and optimisation.

"The second initiative is the launch of the Centurion Aerospace Village, an essentially local aerospace manufacturing cluster. This initiative is to be built around areas of specialist engineering, design and manufacturing of aircraft structures and systems, as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul."

Human capital

"The third project is the National Aerospace Centre of Excellence, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. This is a partnership between government, industry, academic and research institutions to address scarce skills and to promote the aerospace sector."

Lekota said government aims to develop human capital in critical and scarce skills areas, as well as to promote the sector's global competitiveness through these initiatives.

"It is our view that this sector contributes significantly to the national economy and we consider it a vibrant national asset."

Lekota also again confirmed the expeditionary role of the SA National Defence Force and the need for industry to support the ability of SA's military to deploy sustainably at continental distances.

"As you are all aware, in times of natural disasters, and in peace support operations, SA has shown that it is able to field dependable and cost-effective equipment for humanitarian, search and rescue operations," he said.

"We were also able to fulfil our obligations to the AU [African Union] where regional conflicts needed our peacekeeping support, in combined operations with the AU and United Nations. In times like these, our aerospace, maritime and land capabilities depended on proven equipment that has stood the test of operational deployments."

Organisers expect 17 000 trade visitors to attend the show between today and Friday, and about 90 000 enthusiasts to stream through the gates this weekend for a public air show. About 80 government delegations are at the show, including representatives from all Southern African Development Community countries.

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