Denel wins hi-tech helmet order

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

Denel, the struggling state-owned defence group, has won a R200 million production order to supply British arms giant, BAE Systems, with optical helmet tracker systems for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.

The offset deal relates to SA's controversial multibillion-rand arms deal and the acquisition of 24 BAE Systems Hawk lead-in fighter trainers and 27 Saab Gripen fighters. The production order follows a design and development contract signed in 2003.

It will see Denel Optronics manufacture 450 hi-tech pilot helmet tracking systems over the next four to five years. These will be installed on the Eurofighter Typhoon, one of Europe's newest fighter jets.

"We are particularly pleased with this large contract from BAE Systems, as it confirms Denel Optronics' position as a world leader in helmet tracking systems for pilots," says Denel CE Shaun Liebenberg.

"Importantly, it sets Denel Optronics on a firm footing within the global defence environment as part of Carl Zeiss Optronics. This is exactly what we'd hoped to achieve with Denel's turnaround strategy and are grateful our partnerships are benefiting all those involved. As design authority of the HTS, Denel Optronics is also playing an important role in supporting the high-technology supplier base in SA, including such strategic suppliers as Parsec and Ansys."

Carl Zeiss Optronics, of Germany, bought 70% of Denel Optronics in March as part of Denel's restructuring process. Final competition authority and Public Finance Management Act-approval of the Zeiss transaction is imminent.

Safety enhancement

The Denel HTS design comprises three cockpit sensors - essentially tiny video cameras - that detect a series of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) embedded in the pilot's helmet. A computerised head-tracker processor captures data from these sensors and rapidly calculates the angle and position of the pilot's head. This information is used to correctly position the display of vital symbols on the pilot's helmet-mounted display.

The helmet-mounted display projects vital flight, instrumentation, navigation and mission data, together with weapons and counter-measures status, directly onto the pilot's visor. With this information directly in front of his eyes, the pilot never has to take his eyes "off the road" by glancing down at physical instruments.

This is a significant safety enhancement, especially for pilots having to fly high-speed low-level (nap-of-the-earth) missions in the day or at night. The head tracker processor also drives external sensors and missile seekers, keeping them aligned with the pilot's line of sight. Denel says evaluations have shown the system to be superior to any similar available in the world.

"Eurofighter Typhoon pilots will appreciate the design ingenuity and reliability of the Denel head-tracker system," says BAE Systems executive VP for SA Jonathan Walton.

"It is a testament to the valuable engineering skills that reside within SA's defence and aerospace industry. BAE Systems is delivering $8.7 billion of benefits to SA's economy and we are committed to supporting SA in growing its high-technology industry."

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