AAD 2000, the African Mix.
A pure fact rather than a personal feeling however, was that in terms of wares displayed the defence segment had thinned in comparison to Dexsa '98. Indeed, with all the South African main defence equipment acquisition deals sealed (or almost) two years ago, few of the foreign "loser" companies had any reason to ship any equipment and sophisticated displays at massive costs.
While the air portion of the defence segment had, as we shall see, its own interesting developments, there is no doubt that the ground forces discipline -- through LIW -- had stolen the show.
G7? Yes, surrounded by the T6, the G5 and the G6 howitzers a brand new G7 proudly guarded the entrance door to the Denel hall. G7 seemed a logical designation for LIW's new-born although we are now looking at a light-weight 105 mm gun. But what a gun. According to LIW, the new towed brethren used in conjunction with an equally new ammunition family offers the same performance as a normal 155 mm.
So far, tests (140 rounds fired at full charge) have shown that accurate firings at a range of 24 kilometres could be consistently achieved although some rounds have been fired at 27 kilometres. However, LIW officials told the author that ranges of 30 kilometres or more could be expected with base-bleed rounds. The key factor to this performance lies in the length of the barrel -- 52 calibres -- which is a unique feature for a 105 mm howitzer today -- combined with a 12-1itre chamber. In terms of lethality, the new prefragmented munition mentioned earlier is said not to spare any life over an area of 2000 square metres. Indeed, with such performance the G7 has the potential to put a number of towed one-five-fives out of business, particularly if one considers its weight (see further). Other tests carried out with an armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot proved that 150 mm armour was no match at 500 metres.
Whilst it sported the lustre and finish of a system that has just been rolled off the production line, the G7 is at this stage still a pure demonstrator -- and LIW was very insistent on this fact. One of the many reasons is that while this demonstrator weighs 3.8 tonnes, which is already quite a feat in itself, a diet could slim it down to a weight closer to the three tonne mark. Currently, however, the G7 with a complement of 100 rounds still weighs less than six tonnes, whilst a typical towed 155 in the same configuration would find it difficult to remain under the ten tonne mark.
The G7 project started life in 1995 as a investigative study on a close support gun ordered by the South African Army to Denel's LIW. The latter built the gun in 1999 and, whilst awaiting an Army contract, Denel decided to explore its potential market -- hence its presence at AAD 2000.
Turning to aviation affairs, the most intriguing news came from Kentron announcing the R-Darter. The announcement of this active radar version of the infrared Darter is not surprising in itself as its development had been in the pipeline for several years. More confusing, however, is that it is still being regarded by Kentron representatives as a development but at the same time said to be already in service on the South African Air Force Cheetah Cs -- in fact, since the beginning of 2000. Ultimately intended to arm the future Saab Gripens of the South African Air Force, its integration on the Swedish aircraft has already started and is scheduled for completion in 2002. Like other missiles in its category the R-Darter has two firing modes:
* lock-on-after-launch, whereby the target position and velocity data acquired by the pilot through the aircraft's radar are downloaded to the missile; upon launch when in the firing envelope, the missile flies under its own inertial navigation command before eventually activating its radar to acquire its target.
* lock-on-before-launch, by virtue of which either helmet sight or boresight designation locks the seeker onto the target before launch.
Talking of the Gripen, Saab, BAE Systems and Denel Aviation gave an interesting update on the status of both the South African and the Swedish programmes. The Swedish Air Force has already taken delivery of 90 aircraft, but most interesting is the fact that work is progressing well on what is known as the "batch 3". The upgrading of the Gripens of the latter category are aimed at offering full Nato interoperable capability by adding:
* English language displays
* On-board oxygen generation system
* Air-to-air refuelling
* Fully integrated electronic warfare suite.
Batch 3 represents not only the standard of the third batch of Gripens that will be delivered to the Swedish Air Force but also the core configuration of the export models.
Asked whether the latter (hence the South African) was now frozen, a BAE Systems representative replied "chilled rather than frozen", meaning that a few details still had to be sorted out. Denel Aviation has designed the interoperable weapons pylon and will also eventually have full maintenance capability. In the context of air-to-air refuelling, Saab is in the process of converting existing Swedish Air Force C-130s into tankers. The first such aircraft is scheduled to be available by 2002.
Full maintenance capability draws us to another press conference jointly held by Snecma and Denel Aviation during which the French company granted a full maintenance authority on all Atar series engines to Denel for the "whole world except France". Whilst one has many reasons to believe that South Africa had not awaited this certificate to perform its doctoring skills on Atars in the past, Denel can now do this officially.
Another very interesting subject on the theme of aircraft engines emerged from the static display where a Mirage F1 and a Cheetah D2 flanked a Russian Klimov SMR-95 engine -- a derivative of the RD-33 that powers the MiG-29. The author had years ago reported on this programme which was discontinued in 1996 when it became totally clear that South Africa had decided to "buy new". At that time, the very idea of reengining the French aircraft appeared as a weird move given the notorious lack of reliability of the Russian engines (which had much to do with the Soviet's philosophy that considered it useless to spend money on developing and manufacturing engines capable of several thousand flight hours for aircraft that were promised a very short life once engaged in a conflict -- if it was broken, it was replaced). However, times have changed and so has the Russian view on economy and Klimov is now very actively involved in increasing the mean time between failure of its engine to 2000 hours and an overall engine life of 3000 hours. According to the Denel Aviation reengining programme manager, the Russian firm has now reached an MTBF of 1000 hours. Asked what had prompted the resurrection of this programme, he said that Denel was actually in the "initial stages of reviving the project for [the needs of] a foreign nation".
The F1, which had logged some 75 flight hours with its new graft, could be flying again later this year or early 2001 if the programme is given the go-ahead. The author managed to find one of the pilots that flew the re-engined aircraft six years ago who said that it was "much more powerful and went like the clappers". It goes without saying that the upgrade would only make sense if a full revision of the cockpit and ancillaries went with it, and indeed a whole range of packages are being studied. Given the number of Mirages in various guises that are still operational around the world, and if one throws into the equation its newly acquired authority on Atar engine maintenance, Denel might well be able to offer new jobs in the near future.
TDA exhibited the series of FZ 70 mm rockets selected by the South African Air Force to arm its new helicopters. The offset deal, however, was to offer the indigenous MMS company the task of developing a new 16-tube rocket launcher. Whilst retaining aluminium tubes, the rest of the structure is essentially made of composite materials which cuts the empty weigh of the launcher down to 40 kg from 60. The first ground test firings had taken place in Belgium the week before the show. TDA is aiming at having the launcher qualified by the end of 2000 and then adapt it to the German Tiger and the Rooivalk for airborne qualification tests in the first half of 2001.
Avitronics was promoting its electronic surveillance payload. Designed for the Seeker II drone and based on the firm's Electronic Location System, it is in production and being delivered to Kentron for integration into the drone for an export customer. The drone does the essential part of its work by storing its findings on a flash card (the onboard computer carries out all the signal classification work) and only downlinks essential coded data. Direction-finding is performed by a combination of interferometry and phase amplitude analysis.
Interest in the system is now shown for manned aircraft, according to Avitronics. The system was originally developed for an anti-radar missile.
G7 Leading Particulars
* 52 calibre autofretagged barrel
* Rifling twist 1:22
* Semi-automatic swing and slide-type breech
* Recoil with fixed recoil length of 1 meter
* Gas type counter recoil
* Counter recoil also used to retract the gun using the hydraulics of the traverse and elevation system
* "Pepperpot" muzzle brake, rifled on the inside, adding an effective 5 calibres to the barrel
To ram both the projectile and charge at any elevation an improved model will be fitted with a hydraulically operated and controlled chain push rammer.
Mirage III Improvement Potential
Sustained turn rate: 22% Specific excess power: 65% Acceleration time, M 0.3 to M 0.9: 31% Climb time, 1000 ft to 40 000 ft: 32%
(as provided by Marvotech Ltd)