Johannesburg - If you’re caught carrying drugs by a sniffer dog, expect to be roughed up a bit. They’re allowed a bit of latitude to scratch and ram their noses through bags or rip your car to shreds.
But if you’re carrying a bomb, they’ll just sit quietly. It’s a more passive approach, says Mechem ethologist Hannes Grobbelaar.
The dogs stole the show on Tuesday when Denel Land Systems (DLS) formally announced that next October, it would hand over the first production Badger, the South African army’s new state-of-the art infantry combat vehicle - an R8.4 billion 10-year contract flowing from the arms deal. It was also an opportunity for DLS chief executive Stephan Burger to showcase the state arms maker’s other wares, including upgrading the army’s R-4 assault rifle and building sniper rifles that can blow up a bunker 1.2km away.
Yet 80 percent of what the company makes is sold to foreign markets, including a R3.5billion contract for the Badger turrets and unique SA-made cannon and mortar systems to Malaysia.
Artillery remains the big seller. The legendary G6 155mm self-propelled howitzer that saw service on both sides of the first Gulf War is being continually upgraded: “We could aim for Ellis Park from here and hit it every time,” said Burger at his Lyttelton office, south of Pretoria.
The G6 might be the most mobile in the world, but it fades into insignificance with the company’s new 105mm towed howitzer. It shoots further than any gun in its class, but is lighter than all of them. Burger boasts that it’s the most accurate in the world, and, with its new high-explosive shells, will offer a “higher lethal area and a small danger area” – defence speak for minimal collateral damage.
But Denel is not just a one-stop shop for armies; there’s a humanitarian side too, he says. Its demining division, Mechem, is the world’s leading demining company, operating in 11 African countries, designing mine-protected vehicles and clearing minefields.
The Casspir, forever remembered as the apartheid police’s vehicle of choice in the townships in the 1980s, has been overhauled and is now the UN’s favourite as the safest vehicle in its class.
The dogs though beat everyone hands down. While a trained deminer can do 50m2 a day, a demining dog can clear up to 2 000m2.
“They’re the best employees we have,” jokes Burger. “They can’t wait to go to work.”