Local Electronics Firm Scoops R40m US Navy Contract
Pioneering South African electronics company C2I2 has won a groundbreaking R40 million contract to equip the world's largest and most powerful warships, the US Navy Nimitz class aircraft carriers.
The international breakthrough comes just months after the South African Navy snubbed the effectiveness of C2I2's electronic warfare products and instead opted for a system produced by Schabir Shaik, the brother of South Africa's then chief of defence procurement, Shamin ``Chippy'' Shaik.
C2I2's managing director and majority shareholder Dr Richard Young accused the government of tender irregularities at the time, and effectively blew the lid off the arms deal scandal by embarking on a series of legal challenges both to the deal itself, as well as against public watchdogs such as the Auditor General and Public Protector.
The controversy hasn't, however, appeared to have phased the Americans.
The official US Navy web site confirms that C2I2's electronics will form a major component of the next Nimitz class aircraft carrier, to be named after former US President George Bush snr in honour of his role as the navy's youngest combat pilot in World War II.
The USS George Bush, the 10th Nimitz class vessel, will join the US fleet in 2009.
The USS Ronald Reagan, due to be completed this year and also a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, has already been fitted with a host of C2I2's South African products as part of its warfare system.
And in addition, the oldest of the Nimitz class carriers, the USS Nimitz, is presently being modernised with a self-defence system that incorporates C2I2's South African electronics products. Nimitz class carriers weigh over 100 000 tons and carry 85 aircraft, but are capable of speeds matching or exceeding that of the SA Navy's fastest strike craft.
According to the US Navy website, the USS George Bush will be the most advanced of the Nimitz class carriers and will represent a bridge between the technology of the Nimitz class and the next generation of US carriers.
The American carrier fleet, while the largest in the world, is long in the tooth the Kitty Hawk and Enterprise Class carriers were built in the early 1960s, and even the John F Kennedy class was built in 1968.
The contract to build the USS George Bush was awarded to US-based Newport News Shipbuilding in 2002 at a cost of more than R40 billion just for the construction of the vessel.
The ship is being hailed as revolutionary by the US Navy at least in part because of the electronic warfare systems sourced from Young's company.
C2I2 has meanwhile also, Young adds, already been asked to tender to supply products for the US Navy's latest Amphibious landing ships.
The apparent endorsement by the world's largest and most technologically advanced military superpower is certain to lend credence to Young's claims presently being made in court that C2I2 failed to win SA Navy contracts due to corruption.
Young's court action is meant to extract damages from the South African government after he failed to win contracts to supply combat suites' data networks for the SA Navy's new corvettes.
``Ironically it is the components that were originally designed for South Africa's relatively puny corvettes that will now protect the mightiest warships afloat,'' he said this week.
Public hearings by the Public Protector into the dispute last year confirmed that Young's products were rejected in favour of systems produced by a company owned by Schabir Shaik.
Young added ``I have always said that South African technology was of the best. This decision by the US Navy just goes to show there were other forces at work in the procurement process (for the SA Navy).
``I consider this to be a huge vote of confidence in our products.
``It is a great pity we were not able to supply the technology to the South African Navy.''
Young stresses that the initial R40 million US Navy contract was expected to grow dramatically next year.
All the US Navy component systems are being manufactured in South Africa and are expected to create at least 36 highly skilled local jobs at C2I2, and scores of lower skilled jobs at affiliated suppliers.
With acknowledgement to Paul Kirk and Sunday Sun.