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Pakistan and South Africa sign memorandum-of-understanding for defence cooperation

Pakistan and South Africa signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) on Monday, March 27 entailing an increase in bilateral defence cooperation, especially in terms of defence industry collaboration, training and armament procurement.

The MoU – “Defence and Defence Industrial Cooperation” – was signed during an official four-day visit to Pakistan by South Africa’s Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The visit will conclude on Wednesday, March 29.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula met Pakistan’s Minister of Defence (MoD) Khawaja Asif, Minister of Defence Production (MoDP) Rana Tanveer Hussain, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other high-level Pakistani defence officials. The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Chief of Staff General Solly Zacharia Shoke was also the chief guest at the annual Pakistan Day Parade on March 23.

As per the press statement released by the Government of Pakistan, the MoU encompasses many areas, among them a call to explore opportunities for collaboration between Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) with Denel Land Systems and Denel Aviation, respectively. Contact between South Africa and Pakistan’s respective state-owned vendors have already been established.

Citing the South African Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans, Gulf News reports that the MoU also involves the “acquisition of defence equipment as well as cooperation in Research and Development (R&D), Transfer of Technology, Co-production/Joint Ventures in public as well as private sector.”

In September 2016, South Africa and Pakistan officially committed to enhancing bilateral defence ties. At the time, South Africa’s defence minister, Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula, stated that South Africa will establish a Defence Attaché office in Islamabad by the end of 2016.

Notes & Comments:

This could be a significant agreement considering it has been signed at the intergovernmental level, which should green-light commercial exchanges and technical collaboration between both countries moving forward. South Africa has a strong product portfolio comprising of surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground munitions, artillery, armoured vehicles and competency in critical technology, such as dual-pulse rocket motors.

The combination of modern technology and accessible pricing (especially in ZAR) should position South Africa’s defence goods favourably against competing Western solutions, especially in a cost-sensitive market such as Pakistan.

While the MoU is a first, Pakistan had procured South African defence equipment in the past, especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The most noteworthy of these were the sale – with local licensed production – of Raptor-I and Raptor-II stand-off range glide bombs. Deployed from the Mirage III/5, these formed the nucleus of the PAF’s long-range strike capabilities, which now include other stand-off range munitions, including the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which analysts believe benefited greatly from South African expertise.

The Denel Land Systems T5-52 self-propelled wheeled howitzer and Denel Dynamics A-Darter air-to-air missile are (or at least were) of interest to the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force (PAF), respectively. The Denel Dynamics Umkhonto EIR could also interest the Pakistan Navy for upgrading the Zulfiqar-class (F-22P) frigates and/or for new surface warships. The Pakistan Army’s recurring need for light armoured vehicles, such as mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, may also be of interest to Denel Group and Paramount Group.

Besides procurement, Pakistan might also be interested in sourcing Denel Group SOC’s competencies in aerostructures, munitions development, artillery and tank guns, and maintenance, repair and overhaul. Pakistan could also build upon earlier work in stand-off range munitions, drawing upon Denel Dynamics’ expertise to produce improved versions of existing weapons and emulate emerging Western designs.

Pakistan and South Africa’s respective private sector entities could also collaborate. Pakistan’s Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) is interested in developing a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). GIDS and one of South Africa’s defence vendors (e.g. Denel Aviation or Paramount Group) could potentially collaborate on this front.

In any case, the formal MoU should provide a strong official basis to enable procurement, which would be a long-term boon for South Africa in terms of big-ticket commercial opportunities.

This MoU appears to be part of a wider South African government policy to open markets for the country’s defence industry. Prior to Pakistan, South Africa signed a similar MoU with Iran, which now reportedly has an Umkhonto missile deal worth U.S. $117 million on the table. The Arab Gulf, Iran and Pakistan could be a belt of potentially lucrative markets, which Denel Group, Paramount Group and others will work to secure by using competitive cost, transfer-of-technology and industry collaboration as incentives.