Defence bolsters ICT

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 05 Apr 2007

The ICT industry is the beneficiary of ongoing policy procrastination and drift in the defence department, says Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association executive director Simphiwe Hamilton.

"The problem has been the uncertainty relating to the future of the complete defence industrial system," says Hamilton.

Another issue is that the defence industry is not a defined and recognised entity, but rather overlaps parts of the chemical, automotive and ICT sectors of the broader economy. Over half the industry is engaged in activities that are broadly ICT, such as radio, radar and military telecommunications. This overlap makes it easy for companies - and engineers - to migrate from defence to civil work.

"For smaller companies, that don't have a big capital outlay, it is slightly easier to migrate to civil production. As we say, 50% of the companies in the industry are broadly speaking ICT, so the skills are readily applicable to the civil market.

Reduced capability

"In five years' time, only those companies with contracts will still be in defence. The rest would have divested and commercialised. Obviously the industry will not disappear, but its capability will be much reduced," Hamilton says.

Engineers have also left defence companies and projects for ICT. "If you look at the people who are running parts of Gautrain, for example, you'll see it is ex-defence people. The pebble-bed modular reactor is ex-defence people. I'm not sure about 2010 [the Soccer World Cup], but from a project management and systems engineering point-of-view, I'm sure there will be some defence people, because this is the only environment where SA has carried out big projects."

Defence companies have made a positive impact on civil projects too. For instance, Protoclea has put its data and signal processing expertise to use in several inner cities, allowing officials to effectively use CCTV as a potent tool in combating crime. The number plate recognition work at OR Tambo international Airport is also by a defence-related company.

"These are traditional defence companies that have taken their skills and applied it in the broader economy," says Hamilton. "You've got small companies that are making a big difference in many areas."

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