Publication: Noseweek Issued: Date: 2003-01-01 Reporter:

What's a Combat Suit : (and why should we care?)


Publication  Noseweek
Date Dec-Jan 2003
Web Link


Assume an enemy missile is fired at one of SA's new corvette patrol ships. The corvette's first line of defence will be its missile detection radar that picks up the incoming missile and instructs the tracking radar to continue tracking it. As the missile approaches, the tracking radar guides the ship's own missiles and guns to lock onto the enemy missile. All of this is constantly being adjusted for the pitch and roll of the sea by another bit of programming.

Now make that four missiles coming at the corvette - from different directions. Typically the corevette's defence systems will have 10 to 15 seconds to destroy them.

This is one of the functions of the ship's computerised combat suite. And without an effective system to coordinate the computers that perform these various functions, the ship is almost defenceless. "Without a top-notch data distribution system the ship is dead", says Richard Young.

Young's information management system for the corvette combat suites, developed in close cooperation with the SA Navy since 1992, has been phenomenally successful around the world. Recently it was selected by the US Navy for use in its most modern surface combat systems.

Yet it was "de-selected" by the SA Navy for its new corvette fleet at the last minute in favour of the obsolete French Detexis system offered by African Defence Systems (ADS), the local subsidiary of notorious French arms supplier, Thomson-CSF. Another shareholder in ADS is Nkobi Holdings, a mysterious local company named after a former treasurer of the ANC. Both ADS and Nkobi are headed by Schabir Shaikh, who is controversial for his roles as a former fundraiser for the ANC, as manager of deputy president Jacob Zuma's financial affairs and - what luck! - as brother of Chippy Shaikh, the civil servant who directed the entire arms procurement programme (see noses 30 and 31).

Whatever the government's reason for rejecting Young's system, it wasn't because his wasn't the best available. In June 1999 the SA Navy did a comparative review of Young's system and Detexis. Detexis representatives were in attendance. Young was not even informed of the review.

Even so, a secret report by naval officers and Armscor officials after the review makes it clear that Young's system was far superior to the Detexis system. The report lists no less than 15 performance-based reasons why Young's system should be preferred. It also details how Young's system complies with SA Navy's User Requirement Specification, whereas the Detexis system doesn't come close.

Young's system had other advantages: it was locally developed and would be maintained and supported locally; and cost only R44m against R49m for the Detexis system. (After Young had tendered his quote, a R50m "risk premium" was arbitrarily added as overall project co-ordinator for the corvettes - which, fortuitously for ADS, made it much more expensive than the Detexis system being offered by ADS itself.

Chippy Shaikh was closely involved in all stages of the deliberations. He even attended a cabinet sub-committee meeting on 26 May 1999, chaired by then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki. Despite having previously declared to the cabinet his conflict of interest involving the corvette combat suite, he continued to take an active part in the proceedings as secretary of the meeting.

All this, and other rivetting detail, forms part of a R150m damages case instituted by Young's company against the SA government and ADS in August.

Nobody reading Young's particulars of claim in the case, can be in any doubt that the arms deals were fundamentally corrupt. And Young's claim was drawn up at a stage when he had still not gained access to the damning government documents he is now finally allowed to see after a six month battle in the Pretoria high court.

To add to his reputation for controversy, ADS director Schabir Shaikh was arrested earlier this year and is scheduled to go on trial for allegedly being in unlawful possession of classified government documents relating to the arms deal.

Most recently it has emerged that he is also alleged to have been involved in brokering a R500 000 a year bribe package for Deputy President Jacob Zuma with Thompsons. Shaikh has declared (to the Mail and Guardian): "The truth about this matter must come out in court."

Is that perhaps a hint to the government about what might happen should the authorities persist in bringing him to court?

With acknowledgement to Noseweek.