IT gains from defence

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2007

Policy drift, procrastination and lack of stakeholder participation are eroding the defence industry, says Simphiwe Hamilton, Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) executive director.

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

This uncertainty is further fuelled by a behind-closed-doors review of the White Paper on Defence.

"It is quite unfortunate AMD is not part of the review process," says Hamilton. "These documents have always had weight and credibility because when they were drafted, they were drafted with industry's participation," he says.

"We also don't have full insight into what motivates the review; suffice to say it is commonly accepted the SANDF's deployment requirements have changed. It was previously premised primarily on conventional capabilities with collateral ability, and today there is an understanding that our prime responsibility includes what we previously viewed as collateral."

Hamilton also has questions about government's defence industrial policy. Much of it may still be relevant, but it too supposed a home defence force, not an expeditionary military committed to long-term tasks, 4 000km distant.

"The White Paper on Defence-Related Industry specified what capabilities were 'strategic'," Hamilton says. "These included logistic support, repair and maintenance of equipment and systems; systems integration; command, control and communication systems; sensors, signal processing and data processing; combat systems software and support; and, lastly, simulation systems and war gaming," he adds.

"It is unclear if these fields are still strategic. In pushing the Department of Defence on clarity in this regard, we are not necessarily saying they must stick to this list. We are saying we need a list; we need an indication to inform the industry's investment decisions, as well as planning for the future."

The last three categories are broadly ICT and have revolutionised the military as much as it has business, he notes. "Even the smallest bit of equipment is getting more intelligent in terms of what drives them," says Hamilton.

"Whatever way we go, there is always need for more ICT. Even the guys in manufacturing start with computer-based design and proof of concept. There is a strong future for ICT in defence."

However, the future of the many small companies in this sector is dependent on government policy going forward. "The defence industrial strategy must support the local industry and without such a strategy, SA will at best be left with a fragmented and unsustainable industry. At worst, it will find it increasingly difficult to maintain, modify and upgrade equipment, and this is basically where we are headed," Hamilton warns.

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