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Modi’s 4-Nation African Visit: India-South Africa Defence Cooperation
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Monish Gulati | Date:02 Aug , 2016 1 Comment
Monish Gulati
Associate Director (Strategic Affairs) with the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at

During his visit to South Africa (SA), Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw potential in ramping up cooperation in trade and investment, especially in areas of minerals, mining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and information technology. He was, however, more enthusiastic about partnering SA in the field of defence and security – “both, at the level of industry and for our strategic and security needs”. He indicated that the Indian defence sector which is witnessing a complete transformation and offers exciting opportunities for collaboration, recently had its norms relaxed to allow 100 per cent FDI. 

Modi felt that Indian and SA defence companies could also “pool their capacities to jointly develop or manufacture defence equipment and platforms”. A move, not just to meet mutual defence requirements, but also to respond to regional and global demand, Modi had suggested. However,  given the historical cooperation, the Indian prime minister remarks actually called upon Indian and South African companies to ‘step-up and scale-up’ their cooperation in the defence sector.

SA Defence Industry

The SA defence industry dates back to the apartheid regime when its rapid development was propelled by two important factors: battling a domestic insurgency and circumventing the mandatory arms embargo imposed by the UN in 1977. The industry shaped up in the 1980s to reach a stage where its technical, design and production abilities are today considered one of the most advanced in the non-Western world.

While the SA defence industry has become increasingly a part of the global arms industry, including acting as subcontractors and supplying military components for foreign systems, it also holds its ground in a few niche areas such as, light armoured vehicles and anti-tank missiles. SA currently supplies weapons and other military equipment to several countries across the world; from the US to China to Sweden and Zambia. The Middle East is a large customer of SA military hardware, ordering missiles, artillery and armoured vehicles many of which are being fielded in the on-going Yemen conflict. In India, the armed forces and the armed police forces would recall their association with the SA supplied mine protected vehicle (MPV), Casspir.

India-SA Collaboration

India-SA defence collaboration was established in 1994 after SA became a democracy. At DefExPo 2002, Denel Land Systems, the leading SA private sector defence company, had displayed G5-2000 and T5-2000 truck-mounted guns of 155 millimetre (mm) 52-calibre, and 155 mm howitzers with the ‘shoot and scoot’ capability. SA companies also vied for contracts to supply sonar, electronic, avionics, radar UAVs and communication equipment for land, air and sea including underwater operations.

South Africa offered a slew of defence partnerships to India, including one comprising joint manufacture of ammunition, propellant charges and artillery gun systems. Speaking at a press conference in February 2002, SA defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, who was leading a 70-strong delegation at Defexpo2002, said that Denel would assist with the establishment of a comprehensive capability for artillery manufacture in India. SA was the first country to propose a joint venture with the Indian Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) for establishing manufacturing facilities for artillery propellant charges’ at Nalanda, Bihar.

In February 2004, it was reported that New Delhi, after price negotiations, had opted for Denel’s offer to supply 180 self-propelled 155-millimetre artillery pieces and 100 howitzer guns. SA was also keen to jointly manufacture 400 motorised 155-millimetre guns with India for export to third countries.

In December 2012, a 155mm/52-calibre truck-mounted howitzer  was unveiled  by TATA Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (SED) which had been jointly developed by TATA Power SED and Denel Land Systems and was essentially a re-engineered version of Denel’s T5-52 motorised howitzer mounted on a customised 8 x 8 truck from TATA Motors.

Then there was the ‘Bhim’ self-propelled howitzer was co-developed by CVRDE & Denel Land Systems under the supervision of Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The self-propelled howitzer was designed to meet the requirements of the Indian Army and comprised of the Denel T6 turret, mounted on Arjun MBT chassis. Bhim was developed, successfully tested and reportedly cleared for production; however a ban on Denel put the Bhim and other projects in limbo.

Denel Saga

India-SA defence cooperation however never really  blossomed as  in 2005 Denel was banned by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after allegations that it paid kickbacks to secure a deal with the Indian Army in 2002 to sell 1,000 NTW-20 anti-material rifles along with 398,000 rounds of ammunition. Under the deal, 700 rifles were to have been purchased directly and the remaining 300 licensed-produced in one of the factories of the OFB. Only 400 rifles were inducted into the Indian Army and the remainder put on hold after the 2005 blacklisting and investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This also brought to a halt in India most of projects in which Denel was involved.

CBI closed the case against Denel in 2014 as it failed to uncover any “credible evidence” of corruption in the procurement process. The Indian Ministry of Defence sent a letter in August 2014 to Denel, lifting the ban. At the DefExpo 2016, Denel showcased a model of T5 155mm truck mounted gun howitzer,GA-1 20mm cannon with a helicopter door mount, Hungwe UAV system, NTW 20 anti-material rifle, PAW 20 assault weapon.

Third Country Cooperation

Indian and SA companies have also been cooperating in the defence sector outside India and for exports to third countries. US defence services provider, Dyncorp International, has partnered with African suppliers and South African OTT Technologies, to build in Mozambique vehicles for African troops stationed in Mali under the African Peacekeeping Programme (AFRICAP). It involved the manufacture and transportation of 115 armoured personnel carrier vehicles (Puma M36 Mk 5 MPV) for Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in a USD 173m US State Department contract. The 14 ton Puma M36 uses the Indian Ashok Leyland Stallion 4×4 automotive components. Earlier in 2011, Kenya had acquired a fleet of 50 OTT Technologies’ Puma M26-15 MPV which is an 8-ton, vehicle based on a TATA 4×4 driveline.  In 2014, South Africa exported 31 M26s to Burkina Faso, 32 to Guinea, 21 to Niger, 39 to Senegal and Malawi received the last of 18 M26s ordered in 2013.

Further Pretoria-based Integrated Convoy Protection has built and sold more than 600 of its REVA (Reliable Effective Versatile Affordable) 4×4 MRAP vehicles to the likes of South Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, the UAE, and Thailand. Of these one variant REVA III type which was exported to Thailand, has an Ashok Leyland drive train.

On its own, as per the Global Armoured Vehicles Market Report 2016, Tata Motors has supplied 585 military vehicles to a variety of African countries for use in the MINUSMA mission in Mali.

Given the historical perspective and the current opportunities in India for motorised and wheeled 155mm howitzers, India-South Africa defence cooperation could be one of the bright spots from Modi’s recent 4-nation visit.


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