Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2005-04-28 Reporter: Sapa

Govt Signs Airbus Military Deal Amid Criticism



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The government signed a contract with Airbus Military on Thursday, under which South Africa will become a partner in the A400M airlifter programme and acquire at least eight of the transport aircraft.

This confirms the confidence placed in the programme by countries outside the existing group of seven European launch nations, Airbus Military said in a statement.

The final contract was signed in Pretoria by Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota.

"Through its stake in the aircraft programme, South Africa's industry will participate in the design, engineering, industrialisation, manufacture, and in-service support of the A400M -- the world's most modern military transport aircraft," Airbus said.

The partnership agreement coincided with the launch of an initiative to secure and further develop the country's aerospace manufacturing capabilities and capacities.

"In signing up as a partner in the Airbus Military A400M programme, South Africa is securing a vital role for its industry in this international programme.

"This initiative will see South Africa joining in at ground level, delivering sustainable opportunities for export-oriented industrial activity over the next 30 to 50 years.

"Such is our esteem for South Africa as a partner that we have accepted South Africa's investment in the A400M programme under similar terms to those of the seven European launch nations," Airbus Military MD Francisco Fernandez-Sinz said in the statement.

The company will also place work packages with South African industry worth millions of rands.

In addition to the industrial benefits, the South African National Defence Force will receive a modern transport aircraft providing vital strategic airlift capability in support of the nation and the African region.

The first of the eight aircraft is scheduled for delivery to the South African Air Force in 2010.

In December last year, the government committed South Africa to buying up to 14 of the four-engine aircraft at about R778-million each, in exchange for investment, technological knowledge and jobs.

Near-bankrupt state arms manufacturer Denel is expected to benefit from defence offsets related to the deal.

The Democratic Alliance opposed the deal on Thursday, saying it "looks set to be another costly mistake".

"The fact that Denel is expected to benefit from defence offsets related to the deal creates the impression that the deal was conceived more to rescue [Denel] than because of the operational requirements of the South African Air Force," DA spokesperson Rafeek Shah said in a statement.

It is high time the government realises the offset logic has been discredited throughout the world and even banned by the World Trade Organisation.

"Our bitter experience in South Africa from the first arms deal, with over R5-billion in outstanding offset investment, is that benefits of this nature never actually accrue as promised," Shah said.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.