Publication: The Citizen Issued: Date: 2007-10-16 Reporter: Paul Kirk

Shaik Firm Altered Army Cannon that Killed Nine



The Citizen

Date 2007-10-16
Reporter Paul Kirk

Web Link


The anti-aircraft cannon that went “berserk” last week, killing nine soldiers and injuring many more, had been significantly altered by a subsidiary of fraudster Schabir Shaik’s African Defence Systems (ADS).

The alterations included modifications to its fire control system and internal safety features.

The modifications formed part of Project Dart in the mid-90s. Under the programme, the 35mm Oerlikon guns operated by 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment were upgraded significantly.

The radar was supplied by Reutech Radar Systems and the screens by CCII Systems *1. The fire control system was developed by Synertech, which was at the time a division of Shaik’s ADS.

The gun that killed nine soldiers at the weekend was one of the guns operated by 10 Anti Aircraft Regiment. The officer in charge of the upgrade was 10 Anti Aircraft Regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel Gary Francis who left the SANDF some time after his regiment’s guns were altered and is now employed by Reutech Radar Systems.

Project Dart and the upgrade and modification of the cannons were not part of South Africa’s controversial R60 billion arms deal, but was paid out of standard army budgets.

Friday’s incident was reported as an accident in which a particular gun “went berserk”, spraying high-explosive rounds in all directions, including towards its own crew.

As yet, no explanation for this has been forthcoming. *4

Dr Richard Young, who was involved in the upgrade, said the incident was “an enormous tragedy” and it was a “wonder *2 and a mercy that many more were not killed or injured”.

Young confirmed that the Oerlikons, bought by South Africa during the late 80s and early 90s, were not fully automatic and had been modified to be so. However, he said that as part of Project Dart the guns were designed to always revert to a safe condition *3 if any kind of failure occurred.

Johan Weenink, managing director of Synertech, confirmed there had been a modification to the guns, but stressed the company he now ran had nothing to do with Project Dart.

Said Weenink: “At the time of the upgrade Synertech was part of Altech Defence Systems, which later became ADS.

“However, ADS eventually closed Synertech, letting the company die, and I took over its name alone. The company I run now has nothing in common with the Synertech that did the modifications.”

Defence Ministry spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said he did not have any information on upgrades carried out in the mid-90s as part of Project Dart. He said he was not aware of modifications to the guns’ fire control system.

Mkhwanazi said the ministry had appointed a commission of inquiry into the accident headed by Major General (retired) Johan Jooste. He added the inquiry would begin its work soon, and although Mkhwanazi had not been told its terms of reference, it would look at all possible causes of the accident.

With acknowledgements to Terry Crawford-Browne and Business Day.

*1      Just the displays for the radars, nothing else.

*2      That is if  :
"It sprayed hundreds of high-explosive 0,5kg 35mm cannon shells around the five-gun firing position."
"By the time the gun had emptied its twin 250-round auto-loader magazines, nine soldiers were dead and 11 injured."
"The rogue gun began firing wildly, spraying high-explosive shells at a rate of 550 a minute, swinging around through 360 degrees like a high-pressure hose."
"The unknown officer tried to shut the gun down but she couldn't because the computer gremlin had taken over. *5"
( )
It the cannon only fired for one eighth of a second, as the Minister of Defence is reported as saying in Parliament, then killing 9 soldiers and injuring 15 is a really bad misfortune.

*3      In those days the gunner just released the firing mechanism.

*4      Well, there is the statement made by the Minister of Defence, but if it is reported correctly, it is not believeable.

*5      But the Minister also says the cannon was being fired in manual mode.

Someone is clearly bulldusting.

The dead soldiers, injured soldiers, the soldiers who have to next operate these weapons, as well as all of their families, have a right to better.