Saab's History with the South African Navy

The relationship between the South African Navy and Saab started in the 1990’s.  Avitronics at that time had a good working relationship with EM Lab who was already involved with the South African Navy (SAN) and had a branch in Cape Town. 

With the incorporation of EM Lab into Avitronics, the company gained entry into the maritime world as EM Lab was handling specialized Electronic Warfare (EW) maintenance on the SAN’s strike craft and submarines at the time. Even though it was mainly maintenance work, new technology had to be developed to design and manufacture substitute microwave components that were either discontinued or could not be procured as a result of the arms embargo.

The SAN then embarked on a life extension program for the strike craft that involved the upgrade of the combat suite, including the EW system. Delcon Control Systems, a company with extensive systems' expertise and experience in the naval environment, acted as the main contractor and system integrator.  During this program a close working relationship developed between all the involved local EW companies involved.

The Strike Craft EW system consisted of an Electronic Intelligence (ELINT)/Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system with a wide and narrowband receiver.  This was integrated with a rocket decoy system as well as a radar jamming system that had both deception and noise jamming capabilities.  An Electronic Warfare Controller (EWC), with the appropriate Human-Machine Interface (HMI), was developed to merge and manage all the available EW resources.  The purpose of this was to ensure optimal response to threats and the integration of EW data into the Action Information System.

The optimisation and upgrades of the antennas and front-end receivers of the ESM and ELINT system was sub-contracted to Avitronics. The technology established with this programme later became the foundation of Avitronics’ future maritime EW work. Grintek procured Delcon which then became part of Avitronics. The maritime systems capability of Delcon, combined with the existing product-level capabilities within Avitronics, gave the company’s overall maritime capability a huge boost.  This proved invaluable with the success enjoyed in both the local and global maritime EW market.

When the international arms embargo against South Africa was lifted in 1994, South Africa embarked on a major acquisition programme that involved new fighters, advanced jet trainers, light utility helicopters, frigates and submarines towards the end of the 1990s. Avitronics was involved in the naval acquisition program as follows:

  • The Frigate Program

Avitronics was appointed the main contractor for the full EW suite on the frigates.  The experience gained and the technology established with the strike craft upgrade now proved invaluable as it formed the basis of the frigate EW suite.  The system consists of an ESM, ELINT, EW Controllers and an EW countermeasure system. The ESM/ELINT and active countermeasure systems were subcontracted to Sysdel while Avitronics supplied the passive countermeasure system and the EW Controllers.  Consoles containing the HMI and hardware were also supplied by the Avitronics.

  • The Submarine Program

Avitronics was contracted to supply the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and ESM system for the submarines.  The antennae for the ESM and RWR are mounted on separate periscopes and each is also equipped with a GPS antenna.  Both systems share the same EW processor. 


When operating in potentially hostile waters, the RWR is used to check for any radar activity.  It is inconspicuous with low profile antenna which when raised, are difficult to detect optically and by enemy radar.  When more radar information needs to be gathered, the periscope with the ESM antenna array is raised to measure, analyse and record the signal parameters of radars in the area. As with the Frigate Program, the company also supplied the consoles and equipment racks that contained the hardware and the HMI of the system.

Saab has subsequently maintained and supported the various systems in service with the South African Navy at the Systems Support Centre in the Simonstown dockyard. Factory level support is provided by the Saab Grintek Defence (SGD) branch in Capricorn Park, close to Muizenberg.


SGD looks forward to participating in the future naval upgrade and modernisation program, with its vast range of modern and highly capable products.