Denel Overberg Test Range – Proving Grounds

We learn how the Denel Overberg Testing Facility supports the international defence industry.

The Denel Group is South Africa’s largest manufacturer of defence equipment, operating in the military aerospace and landward defence sectors. Since the company was incorporated in 1992, as a firm solely owned by the South African Government, it has done business through five key divisions that each specialises in different manufacturing, testing and evaluation capacity, all of them complementing each other.

Denel Dynamics focuses on the design and development of technical missiles and guided weapons. Denel Landward Systems provides turnkey vehicle systems to military and police customers as well as a consolidated system designer and integrator of combat turrets, artillery and infantry systems. Denel Aeronautics delivers end-to-end aeronautical solutions and is the original equipment manufacturer of the Rooivalk combat helicopter as well as the design authority for both the Oryx medium transport helicopter and the Cheetah multi-role fighter aircraft. Denel Pretoria Metal Pressings (PMP) produces metal plating, with an integrated manufacturer of medium calibre ammunition. Last but not least, there is Denel Overberg Test Range. Denel Overberg Test Range (OTR) is a versatile test range specialising in in-flight systems performance measurements for the local and international aerospace industries.

“We have the ability to manage and execute any combination of air, ground and sea flight tests, with our main focus being the evaluation of flight performance rather than destructive power of weapons,” explains Bridget Salo,the CEO of Denel Overberg Test Range. Denel OTR Zebra

The testing facility of Denel Overberg Test Range is a staggering achievement, a unique, flexible environment that allows for a diverse range of tests.
“Our instrumentation has been designed to be flexible and where necessary, mobile,” Salo says. “What’s unique about the test range is that it is divided into two sections with a nature reserve in between. We’ve performed more than 1,000 test campaigns here and have virtually unrestricted land, air, and sea area available. The combined capability with the modern airbase adjacent to
the Test Range which provides a 3km runway and excellent ground support service for all types of aircraft giving us the advantage of being able to start our tests while the aircraft is on the runway. To ensure quality to our clients we’re also ISO 90001:2015 certified.”

The site has a number of appealing factors for clients looking for a test range, including a large unrestricted test arena with appropriate topography, and instrumented test facility with multipurpose applications as well as a knowledgeable, experienced and service orientated workforce.

Denel Overberg Test Range is situated on a 43,000ha uninhabited site across 70km of coastline, which is certainly scenic and allows for testing across land, air and sea, but which also brings its own challenges.
“The maintenance of our infrastructure and instrumentation is a challenge,” Salo admits. “Due to our location and the 70km of coastline, the level of required maintenance is very high. There
is also a great deal of demand in terms of replacing equipment and systems, making sure we keep abreast with the latest technology and are able to satisfy the needs of our local and international clients.”

Keeping the Test Range well equipped and effective involves extensive and continuous progress of assessment and upgrading. “We do selective upgrading, with a failure report and corrective
action system,” Salo points out. “Most of our maintenance we do in-house so we can tend to problems immediately and before they occur. We keep track of technology development with a
continued renewal of the facility.”

The Test Range has an array of infrastructure and instruments. This includes instrumentation radars, mobile cinetheodolites, a series of video-, high-speed video and infrared cameras, telemetry stations of which two can be deployed anywhere in the world as well as a graphic display system which includes status display functionalities forms part of this world-class facility. It is furthermore complemented with a complete meteorology service.
The Test Range has a well equipped central control centre which provides the command and control infrastructure for advanced test executions. A central computer cluster comprising of a calculation and communications computer as well as a graphic display system, a safety system for both in-flight and test volume safety which includes a command destruct capability and a complete data reduction facility adds to the excellent capability and support available.

All range measurements and data recordings are synchronised (IRIG-B) with time accuracy better than 10 microseconds. An extensive network consisting of fibre optics and microwave links provides real-time communications between the control room, the central computer cluster and all participating instruments. Radio communication links are also available from the control room to all participating aircraft and ships.

The Test Range has created a facility that can act as a one-stop service for defence clients with a variety of needs from all around the world. “The one-stop service that the Test Range provides to
our clients includes an on-site accommodation facility with catering services. We also provide logistical support, target services as well as office and workshop space. We are very flexible and can offer all-year-round testing because of our moderate climate conditions. Alongside this, we guarantee the security of test data and have a high standard of physical security.”

Moving forward, it is clear that Salo is excited about Denel Overberg Test Range’s potential, particularly with the support of the Denel Group and the defence sector as a whole.
“In terms of our future, we foresee that we will continue to be a stable relevant flight test capability, aligned with market requirements and technology advancements to keep us in demand,” she says. “We require solid support from our local defence industry, we need to continuously grow our international client base, and continue to develop a young, talented workforce.”

However, maintenance for Denel Overberg Test Range is not just a matter of ensuring their equipment is up to date and in perfect working order. It’s also about making sure that the company has the latest technological and scientific knowledge in the field at their fingertips.
“In maintaining our knowledge base we ensure we have succession development plans,” Salo tells us. “Our senior people transfer their skills; younger people are trained in critical functions and we have contingency plans in place for identified risk areas. That is how we maintain our knowledge.”

Indeed, a key priority for Denel Overberg Test Range is building a new generation of people with the skills and qualifications to continue to their work.
“As you can imagine we are in a highly specialised field with a substantial number of specialised employees so that in itself is very beneficial to us,” Salo explains. “We employ young people from
universities to transfer those specialised skills and ensure we have sufficient people in place. We provide bursaries and training, and also include on-the-job training to upgrade and our
systems internally.”

One of the strong motivators Salo has found is the work itself. Salo adds, “I think one of the important things for us is that we retain our employees by investing in them and keeping them busy
with interesting and challenging work. We’re the only facility of its kind in Africa so they can only get that experience here at DenelOverberg Test Range.”

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