South Africa always had a good antenna design capability, says Tom Roos, general manager of Cobham Advanced Technologies SA. "It was a strategic capability in apartheid times." In fact, South Africa's expertise in antenna design was what attracted the UK group to purchase Cape Town's Omnipless in 1999, when political changes led to a wave of foreign investment in the nation's high-tech industry.
Toom Roos - General manager, Cobham Advanced Technologies SA
Today, that business is the core of Cobham's South African interests and part of the group's antenna systems arm, designing and manufacturing Inmarsat L-Band satcom antennas and systems for civil and military aircraft, and employing 220 people. Cobham Advanced Technologies, based near Pretoria, which Roos runs, is a smaller unit with the job of marketing Cobham avionics products and services to customers in the region. Now latest generations of that original apartheid-era technology are being marketed to South Africa's neighbours, which are investing in homeland security and border protection systems in the fight against poachers, pirates and drug-runners.
"We started focusing seriously on the surveillance market about 18 months ago," says Roos. "We provide the video and datalinks and other systems that are used on UAVs, ground-based equipment, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Airborne surveillance is a lucrative market for the future for Cobham."
The South African business is providing special mission systems, satcom antennas and much of the other avionics for Paramount's AHRLAC single-engined surveillance aircraft, which is being developed as South Africa's first indigenous programme in a generation. It is also "positioning with all the OEMs" likely to contest Project Saucepan, aimed at replacing the South African Air Force's creaking Douglas DC-3 Dakotas in the maritime surveillance role.