US Navy Opts for Products SA Rejected
Paul Kirk and the African Eye News Service
Pioneering South African electronics company C²I² has won a ground-breaking R40 million contract to equip the world’s largest and most powerful warships, the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
The international breakthrough comes just months after the SA Navy snubbed the effectiveness of C²I²'s electronic warfare products and instead opted for a system produced by Shabir Shaik, brother of SA’s then chief of defence procurement, Shamin “Chippy” Shaik.
C²I²'s managing director and majority shareholder, Dr Richard Young, accused government of tender irregularities at the time, and effectively blew the lid on the arms deal scandal by embarking on a series of legal challenges to the deal itself and against public watchdogs such as the auditor-general and public protector.
The controversy doesn’t, however, appear to have fazed the Americans. The official US Navy website 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 in honour of his role as the navy’s youngest combat pilot in World War 2.
The USS George Bush, the tenth 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.
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.
All Nimitz-class carriers weigh over 100 000 tons and carry 85 aircraft, but are still 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 1960's
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 been asked to tender to supply products for the US Navy’s latest amphibious landing ships, Young said.
The apparent endorsement by the world’s largest and most technologically advanced military super-power 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 Shabir Shaik.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Kamerman testified at the hearings that Young’s products were only “technology demonstrators”. He added that while products produced by Young’s “fine littlie company” held “significant potential”, they had not been used in any warship and therefore represented a risk factor if used in the SA Navy’s corvettes.
Young has since launched a defamation suit against Kamerman and several other figures involved in the arms deal. Kamerman, who is presently based in Germany, did not defend the case initially and lost. He is currently applying for a rescission of the judgement.
With acknowledgements to Paul Kirk, the African Eye News Service and City Press.