If you think the use of defense technology is limited to those who wield weapons; think again. Did you know that the internet, used daily by almost every inhabitant in the developed world started out as the military’s Arpanet? The handy navigational GPS in our cars stemmed from defense technology, and our cell phones rely on satellite technology which drives voice and data communication. Robotics is applied to great effect in manufacturing and orthopaedics. And even missile technology has been applied to the sporting world of cricket. Yes, hawk-eye technology has changed the way we see the game through trajectory and positioning, and ultimately how to call the shots.
Innovation = invention + exploitation
Innovation is the key to new industries, more jobs, growth. It is innovation that in fact calls the shots to future progress. In South Africa we have one missile and UAV business, Denel Dynamics, touted as a national strategic asset because of its high level of expertise in advanced systems technology.
“It is an engineering world in one company,” says young achiever, Thendo Managa who is the Marketing Executive for Engineering Services, and the Chairperson of the Denel Dynamics Youth Forum (DDYF). He recently made a presentation on the spin-offs of defence technology when you align them to the RSA national objectives.
‘Engineers are not born, engineers are made’
Innovative ideas must be implemented, they must be useful and they must attract new markets and users. One of the great sources of innovation lies within a country’s engineers and scientists. One of the Programme Managers for Denel’s Rooivalk attack helicopter project, Kobus Meiring headed up Optimal Energy. He was also the project manager for the South African Large Telescope (Salt) and has achieved great progress with his electrically powered Joule car.
Denel Dynamics is the incubation hub for developing high tech engineers. From optical engineering to structural, thermal and fluid analysis; from aeronautical, software and digital engineering to mechanical design, power electronics and control systems; scarce skills development is a top level activity within the company. It is one of the few organizations that provide training from concept to product through its Engineering Academy of Learning. It is not an internship; but rather interns are trained to provide business solutions. Every job in Denel Dynamics creates an additional four more jobs outside in the RSA economy.
“The spin-offs are valuable, but it all has to start with technology advancement. It is crucial to the security and defence of South Africa,” says Managa. “When we hit a breakthrough with a new technology there is a lengthy ‘cradle to grave’ engineering life cycle where we can re-brand, upgrade and apply this technology over many years until a point when new products through new technology are required. It is a continuous cycle of innovation.”
Space and beyond
Denel Dynamics has been evaluated as a company with capabilities – one of the few in the country that can contribute technologically to an RSA National Space Programme, said Managa. “We have been invited to be part of the discussions regarding Space in South Africa. It is our view that space-sized problems will require the capabilities of many types of companies pulling together to come up with solutions.”
Innovation affects all spheres of our business lives. It stretches way beyond Denel Dynamics’ ‘rocket scientists’. Every great improvement runs out of gas at some point; reaching a point of diminishing returns. Quite simply, South Africa has no choice but to stay ahead for progress.